Book Review: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 400 pages

Published: September 1, 2020

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Poetry

Synopsis:

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.


This was a hard book to review. Not to the point that it was good or bad but whatever review or statement I say would reflect a bias or animosity that people assume I have and giving an honest review would somehow blow up in my face. But if I let popular opinion and the current political climate affect how I honestly critique a book, then I am doing myself or the readers of my blog a disservice. So without further ado, here is my honest review.

Punching the Air is a great book about how unequal the American justice system and how it targets people of color. It is an interesting introspective look into race relations how the justice system unfairly persecutes the marginalized communities having this unique story written by someone who was personally affected by this makes this book more personable and realistic.

Although this book was genuine, compared to other novels told in verse, I have honestly read better stories in verse. This one really lacked the emotional toll that I usually feel when I read poetry. I think that this would have been better told in prose format. Poetry usually moves a reader and I really didn’t feel that much of it. It felt like there was a huge disconnect between me and the narrator. Also, nonlinear storytelling didn’t help matters. It caused confusion at what was going on and what was taking place at the present moment. Nonlinear storytelling works in prose format but not with poetry, particularly when poetry tells a story.

The book wasn’t entirely lacking in emotion. The part where Amal sees his mural painted over, that’s where I felt connected to the narrator the most. You could really feel his anguish and during that particular moment. I just wished that moment could be replicated in the rest of the story. The voice actor for the audiobook did a very good job portraying this story well for listeners. It was both soothing and authentic. But it wasn’t enough to draw me into the story.

Is Punching the Air one of the best books of the year? No. There are far better novels in verse out there. However, do I think people should read this? This book is a quick read and a good starting point on an open conversation on the injustice of the criminal justice system. I just wish the authors did a better job of portraying an important subject.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

One thought on “Book Review: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

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