BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam [in Booklist]

What a striking confluence here: National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi’s co-writer, Yusef Salaam, was one of the Exonerated Five. Debut narrator Ethan Herisse portrayed the teenage Salaam in Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed dramatization of the aftermath of the Central Park jogger attack, When They See Us, and here gives voice to Zoboi and Salaam’s timely, haunting collaboration. With careful, thoughtful precision, Herisse embodies the novel in verse – a lyrical rendering of horrific events.

At 16, Amal Shahid is both an artist and poet. An accusation of assault gets him arrested; his Blackness and the other boy’s whiteness gets Amal convicted. Wrongfully incarcerated, Amal must quickly learn to survive. Tentative friendships, a caring educator from the outside, and literary packages help to save his life.

In the ending “A Note from the Authors,” Zoboi reveals the authors’ meeting at Hunter College in 1999 (two years after Salaam’s release), and that while this is not Salaam’s story, “Amal’s character is inspired by him as an artist and as an incarcerated teen who had the support of his family, read lots of books, and made art to keep his mind free.”

Review: “Media,” Booklist, October 15, 2020

Readers: Young Adult

Published: 2020


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