Punching The Air – Ibi Zoboi, Yusef Salaam


“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

starts today

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.”


*I received a free eARC copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review of this book*

One of my main reasons for hitting that request button on NetGalley for this book, Punching The Air, was simply because of one of the authors, Ibi Zoboi. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed, Black Enough, including Zoboi’s own story The (R)evolution of Nigeria Jones’, I have been wanting to read more of her work. This book sounded so good to not request and I’m so glad that I had this amazing book accepted so that I could read and soak up this powerful book that takes a look at racial profiling when it comes to the so called ‘justice‘ system. 

This book has such a great writing style to it that fitted with Amals’ character so beautifully and just added that extra bit of perfection to it. The poetically and lyrical writing style told the story in a much more powerful and impactful way, but like I said, it matches Amal’s arty and poetical character and truly does feel as though he is speaking directly to the reader, in a way that if this book was written any other way, wouldn’t have had the same impact. How the whole effect of it comes together, with the different ways that the words are displayed throughout and with the design of the pages changing, it all just added to what was being said at the given time, creating an entire visual effect that just added to what you were reading. 

It’s lyrical, poetical style reminded me of that in Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, but this time around it did feel more personal and because of that, it made me feel more connected to Amal. I couldn’t imagine this story being told in any other way or being told in another format, as it might lose some of that connection. I think if you were to listen to this book via audiobook, for instance, you would lose some of that affect that you are getting from the visuals. 

I found myself flying through this book so fast! After being accepted I demolished 100 pages so easily, even with me being at the end of a really long day. However, wanting to be able to absorb and take in as much of this book with a clear head as possible, knowing this was going to be a book that was going to stay with me, I waited until the next day to continue reading. I am glad that I chose to do so as I don’t know if it would have affected and stayed with me in the same way as it now has. This really is a powerful and engrossing read and had me so emotional while I was reading it, which isn’t the first time for an Ibi Zoboi read.

Punching The Air is the first book in a while that has actually gotten those tears from me and I gave them willingly. 

Discovering the story, the history behind this book, the relationship between Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, discovering who Yusef Salaam is and the history of the Exonerated Five made this book even more captivating. The little message for the reader that’s included before the story itself, right at the beginning, really was great and I am personally glad that it was included, as it has allowed for me to now go further and do some research and further educate myself, as I had not heard of Yusef Salaam or the Exonerated Five before.  

Published by ShayneysReviews

Hello! My name is Shayney Hardcastle. I am a massive book enthusiast so I created this blog as my own little place where I can write and express my thoughts and review each book I have read. I am 23 and am currently living in a small town in Wales, in the United Kingdom, and love how reading let's me explore the world outside of this small town. I have also recently been sent more and more books and ARC by authors to review and wanted a place to review them that wasn't just on Goodreads and Amazon.

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