WELCOME TO PUNCHING THE AIR by IBI ZOBOI & YUSEF SALAAM BOOK TOUR
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Title: Punching the Air
Author: Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam
Publishing Date: Sept. 1st 2020
Age Category & Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, Fiction, Poetry
Synopsis: From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.
The story that I thought
was my life
didn’t start on the day
I was born
Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.
The story that I think
will be my life
Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?
With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.
**Thank you to HarperCollins International and Edelweiss for providing me an eARC. This, by any means, did not affect nor influence my review.**
T/CW: racism, microaggression, use of racial slur
Reading this book is literally one of the best things I have done this year. Punching the Air really punches. It punches hard and I am thankful it does.
WRITING, POINT OF VIEW, SETTING, CHARACTERS
Punching the Air is about Amal Shahid, a Black Muslim teenager who was wrongfully incarcerated. It was told from his point of view and is mostly set in the juvenile detention facility where he was imprisoned in. It was written in verse, which worked well with Amal being a poet. It was beautiful and I loved the imagery, simile and metaphors used. I felt everything. Every line certainly has a punch.
I easily connected with Amal. He is a poet and an artist. He uses his poems, drawings and paintings to express himself. I unexpectedly related to him, especially when he was talking about his loneliness, feelings of wanting to hide and disappear, not wanting to be trapped in a box and whenever he just let his imagination run free. But what I loved most was how he was not painted perfect. He was painted human. A human with flaws just like anybody else. And a typical teenager with friends, family, crush, dreams, and fears.
I loved the roles the side characters played, including the relationship of Amal and his mother, it’s filled with so much love and tenderness. They all played crucial roles, not just to Amal’s life, but in helping us, the readers, gain inspirations and/or realizations as well. In particular, Imani, Dr. Bennu and Ms. Rinaldi stood out for me the most. Imani is a poet, educator and an activist who was teaching poetry in the detention facility and Dr. Bennu, who was also wrongfully incarcerated when he was a teen, visited them one day in Imani’s class to help with their lesson. I really love both of their presence which served great purpose in the story. Ms. Rinaldi was Amal’s art teacher in the art school he used to attend. I do really wish people, especially teachers could learn from this character. See her actions and how that affected her student, see where, when and how she failed Amal, and do better. Educators and activists have important roles in our lives and the society as a whole and I love how this book showed that.
IMPRISONMENT, CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM, ART
Punching the Air centers Amal’s journey. It welcomed us in the courtroom where we saw witnesses on the stand and heard the verdict. We see how Amal saw his life turned upside-down. Feel how it was like for him to see those people in that courtroom decide what will happen to his life. Hear the verdict that put him in that juvenile detention facility and saw all the effects those experiences had on him. But more than Amal’s story, Punching the Air is also about the criminal justice system in America. How it fails a lot of people, especially Black people.
Punching the Air comes from the stories of people who have been wrongfully incarcerated and have been victimized by a deeply flawed criminal justice system. One of the authors himself, Yusef Salaam, was wrongfully incarcerated when he was a teenager, along with other Black and Latin teenage boys on the Central Park jogger case. Zoboi and Salaam pulled from Salaam’s own experience and also got inspiration from the Scottsboro Boys, the Exonerated Five (the group where Salaam is included as previously mentioned), and the Jena Six case in 2006. It actually shows us what life could be like in a juvenile detention facility, the kind of people you may meet there and how it all affects the people imprisoned in there – especially mentally, emotionally and physically.
This book also talks about what it is like to dream and what it is like to hope. It highlights Amal’s creativity which I loved so much. He uses his art not just to express himself but to actually send a message. For someone who appreciates poetry and arts, it made me appreciate and love the book even more. I especially love the scenes where Amal rapped his powerful verses. I wish I could also see Amal’s paintings. I loved that I have actually gotten book recommendations as Amal is a reader as well. And I have learned from an interview that a poem Salaam wrote when he was a teenager was also included in this book, though I am not sure which, that makes this book more special for me. This book centers art and the power it holds.
The only thing I did not fall in love with was the ending. I don’t think it was bad. I think others may have even loved it, but I just personally wished the book was made a bit longer because there are still things that I want to witness happen myself.
Punching the Air is beautiful, thought-provoking, powerful, and important. It is heavy and painful. But at the same time, hopeful. It joins the discussion and calls for action. It shows the power of art. And it tells a story that should be acknowledged and listened to by everyone. As a non-Black person and someone who does not live in America, I have found this informative as well. This is my first read from Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, and it won’t definitely be the last. I am excited to re-read and listen to the audiobook. I highly recommend.
Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her novel American Street was a National Book Award finalist and a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of Pride andMy Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, a New York Times bestseller, and Punching the Air with co-author and Exonerated Five member, Yusef Salaam. She is the editor of the anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. Raised in New York City, she now lives in New Jersey with her husband and their three children.
Dr. Yusef Salaam was just fifteen years old when his life was upended after being wrongly convicted with four other boys in the “Central Park jogger” case. In 2002, after the young men spent years of their lives behind bars, their sentences were overturned. Now known as the Exonerated Five, their story has been documented in the award-winning film The Central Park Five by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon and in Ava DuVernay’s highly acclaimed series When They See Us. Yusef is now a poet, activist, and inspirational speaker. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama, among other honors. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, Sanovia, and their children. You can find him online at http://www.yusefspeaks.com.
*All quotations below are from a review copy and may be subject to changes in the published copy.
You dream big, Amal
Don’t ever stop dreaming big
But for now, put that dream on paper
It’s easier to carry around
So I’d pulled my hoodie
And put my head down
There, behind my closed lids
I could paint me a world
That made sense
When the world spins
I shut out the voices
all she would say is
the sun will still rise
No matter how dark
it gets in here
no matter how lonely
I start to feel
I can still be the light
no matter how scared
I get in here
I start to remember
My name is Amal
and Amal means
hope means there
is still a tomorrow
My dear Amal—
The only way to survive hell
is to walk through
And what does dust do, Amal?
What did Maya Angelou say about dust?
It rises, I whisper
You are my life
And you are life itself Amal—
I would paint this whole scene
for the world to see
The worst thoughts swim around
your mind when you’re locked up
in a box with nothing but the
quiet darkness as your hype man
The best thoughts swim around
your mind when you’re locked up
in a box with nothing but the
quiet darkness and cool concrete walls
as your canvas
Butterfly, you’d have to promise me
you’ll change them out there, too
it can’t be just me
they gotta be different, too
And I want all of you to know
That there’s no failing in art
There is no wrong art
There is no bad art
Just your truth—
My punches will land on a wall
My punches will be paintbrushes
This is what I want the world
to know about me
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Enter below to win a copy of Punching the Air! This giveaway is open internationally and sponsored by HarperCollins International. And will end on September 30, 2020.