Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Drawing on Yusef Salaam’s experience as a wrongly incarcerated teen, Ibi Zoboi has created a haunting reality within the pages of her book, Punching the Air. Written in verse, this novel uses beautiful language to describe the horrors of our criminal justice system.

Amal, a young artist and poet, is thrown behind bars for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Despite his innocence and lack of evidence towards the crime, the jury decides the only marker they need to prove his guilt remains within his skin. Thrust into a world where he doesn’t belong, Amal struggles to keep hope even as the rest of the world pulls him down. His art is his only comfort, but even that is taken away and squashed to some degree. His life has been decided for him based on actions he didn’t take, forever labeled a criminal.

Unfortunately Amal’s story is not unique within our world. It’s a recognizable tale of racism and bias within our criminal justice system, destroying black youth before they have a chance to live. This reflection of our society evokes that much more emotion within the reader. Zobois choice to write in verse gives the feeling of raw emotion filtering through the page, as if we’ve gained access to the very center of Amal’s mind.

Beautifully written with a heart-wrenching story, this book is not meant for plot but for reflection and awareness for the road we must pave for equality. – Kira Kaplan

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