Thank you so much to Karina for including me on this blog tour. I’ll include the schedule at the end of this post so you can see who the other hosts on this tour are, and go support them.
Punching the Air
by Ibi Zoboi & Dr. Yusef Salaam
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: September 1, 2020
Genre: YA Contemporary
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.
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 and My 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.
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to Afire Pages, Edelweiss, and Balzer + Bray for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication.
If Ibi wrote this by herself, it would have been amazing, don’t get me wrong. I feel like the collaboration of Ibi with Dr. Yusef just makes everything feel that much more emotional and heartbreaking when you read it because you then remember that Dr. Yusef was one of the
Central Park 5 – the exonerated five – and having to deal with something like that at 15 years old can leave a permanent effect on someone. Thank goodness that they were exonerated, but the fact that they were blamed and accused and incarcerated in the first place was the problem, and this is why being exonerated after the fact doesn’t make things better. It doesn’t change the fact that the exonerated five did not have a justice system that protected them the way it protects white boys. That’s the truth, and it’s that simple, and it’s wrong.
This was really the main reason why having to read this book elicited a lot of emotions from me is because not only is it based on a true story – Yusef’s true story – but this is not a unique situation. It’s just so frustrating, and painful to see even when it’s not happening to you directly. Reading Amal’s story, and feeling so helpless to do anything about him, or anyone else, just made me so angry. I keep saying that I’m angry because I am, and I don’t know if there is any other emotion that I feel stronger than anger when I read this novel. Obviously I’m not angry at Ibi or Dr. Yusef. I’m angry at the situation and I’m angry at everyone involved that didn’t think to even consider that these five boys were not the ones that actually committed the crime, and that they were being wrongfully accused because of something they could not even change.
I can’t write an objective review because I don’t feel like it would be truly objective. But I do think that everyone should read this novel. It is so important and even though this centers on Black pain, and I personally am tired of society only wanting to read books about Black people in pain or dealing with racism, wrongful incarcerations, etc… it still needs to be read so that we can implement positive change in our imperfect system that is set against young Black men like Amal.