Punching the Air


Amal didn’t want to go to the skate park with Omari. It’s a ‘no go’, whites’ only area, yet Amal was persuaded. Thereafter, his misgivings are proved correct when the group is surrounded and insults are hurled. Amal throws the first punch, yet it’s not the punch that leaves Jeremy Mathis unconscious. Amal did not do the crime for which he is convicted and sent to prison.

Thereafter, this boy of words and music is diminished by hostility and a lack of hope as he tries to make sense of his life, the guidance of Umi, the fateful night and how he might move ahead. It seems as though he is Punching the Air, seeking fairness from the law, the system, from the chinks of light from the poetry tutor…

Yusef Salaam, one of the Exonerated Five, collaborates with bestselling writer Ibi Zoboi on Punching the Air. It pulls no punches in recreating the unfairness of the system that incarcerates black boys, and thereafter abandons them. This is harsh, real, dreadful writing- dreadful in that it is a  stark wake up call as to what too many youth face. Yet the writing, the illustrations, the moments when Amal finds a pen, has a letter, imagines, hears and shares, are glorious. We long for his truths…. Punching the Air is a magnificent verse novel for Young Adult readers, that we urge them to choose.

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Punching the Air

Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam


Amal was in the wrong place at the wrong time and now he’s doing time. He is wary of Clyde Richter, his defence lawyer, who will not declare his belief in Amal’s innocence. It seems that everything rests on the evidence of the victim, Jeremy Mathis, who remains unconscious in hospital. Meanwhile, Amal recalls his trial and feels the stones in his throat at his actions and the shame he is causing Umi.
Punching the Air is the verse prose collaboration from author Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam of The Exonerated Five- BBC Newsbeat Exonerated 5 Central Park Five. The horror of being found guilty for a crime you did not commit is revealed starkly in this title. Furthermore, the reality of ‘being inside’, from the lack of hope to the privations and hostility is brutal.
Readers will seek any spark of light for Amal, from the marker pens he smuggles into his prison overall, to the letters he receives from Zenobia. Most of all, we long for Jeremy Mathis to awaken, and for Amal’s defence to review his case. Amal, a boy of butterflies, dreams, words and lines, merits a life outside, beyond the confines of Ms Rinaldi’s rules. When Dr Kwesi Bennu leads the boys’s poetry class we are captivated, compelled and crushed by the truths…
Punching the Air is an outstanding YA novel for older, teen readers. The fact it is based on truths makes it more gripping, chilling and determined.


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