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.
Welcome to our newest buddy review for Punching the Air! Now this is a truly special one, a book in a category that neither of us really have that much experience in. What better way to explore a new genre than to do it together in a buddy review? This time, we thought it would be fun to have kind of in a mini Q&A format, to perhaps show off a bit more of our individual voices.
Punching the Air is a novel written in verse, although when I say novel here, I really mean it as more of a collection of poems, separated into three main sections, but each comprised of many individual short poems. Through these poems, the authors paint a sadly realistic story of a Black teenager, Amal, who gets put through the American prison system, and the perspectives and views from the inside looking out.
How was the structure and formatting in the book? Did you like it?
Fives: Not a question normally posed, but quite pertinent in this case. Here the authors really employed all sorts of techniques to create emphasis and meaning in their poems. There was good rhythm and flow, and the use of spacing and lines were well done. Another great element in this book was the use of concrete poetry, which uses a visual element to enhance the meaning or emphasis of a poem. For example, to describe being boxed in, the text is literally written in the form of little square paragraphs, symbolizing the actual boxing in of Amal’s freedom and humanity.
The authors also used repetition a lot, for emphasis, but also to show the change and growth of a motif as it came back each time. With each repetition the imagery became more powerful, and they would transform the motif a bit each time too, to indicate increasing pressure or weight. Overall, I really enjoyed all these elements that they put into the book. And the message of the book aside, the poems in itself are already powerful enough – which is really saying something.
Andge: I think this was something Fives mentioned in our discussion, but this is the only time I can say a book has made good use of their white space. While I can appreciate art and the overall look of the book, I really have to commend the writing. The repetition for emphasis when needed, the allegories and metaphors describing Amal’s every situation. Fives mentioned the boxing in. Amal also describes the friends around him in prison as Corners, protecting him but also acting as another form of repression.
Another example is the heavy weight that always chokes him and presses on his chest. We see how it progresses from a stone in his throat and a brick in his chest to a mountain and a building and then to a country and a city. We can understand and grasp what that sensation is like, as well as the its enlargement as situations make it harder and harder to to feel free. When Amal finally deals with some things that allow him to hope and breathe easier, we can feel it too as the stone in his throat and the brick in his chest drops away. These are only a few examples of the different lyrical tools the authors put to use to help us feel in Amal’s shoes – and it is absolutely brilliant.Continue reading “Buddy Review: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam”