Punching the Air – Staff Review – Cherise

Punching the air by Ibi Zoboi with Yusef Salaam

This story will rip you to pieces. I knew it would be emotional simply by knowing the author and what they’ve written in the past. And I wasn’t wrong. This was one of the most beautiful books I’ve read all year and probably the most gut wrenching. Amal is sentenced to Juvie for something had didn’t do. Was he there? Yes. But did he throw the last punch? No. Amal was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the result he was found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit and the one person who can prove him innocent is in a coma. Everyone he had relied on let him down, from his art teacher who was supposed to be on his side who instead testified about his anger, anger that might be real, but not in the way she sees him, simply because he’s a black male it means he’s “angry” because she’s constantly failing him because she refuses to listen to him. His lawyer promises that he’ll be found innocent and then rolls over when he’s found guilty. Amal is a poet, and artist. He believes he loses these things when he’s taken to Juvie. He lets that said anger go and lashes out after he’s a victim to a racist officer and is beaten by white prisoners. Because Amal is a teenager, he’s angry at how life has let him down. But he gets lucky, he makes friends while he’s there, he meets someone who sees his talent and wants to give him a chance in Amira. His mother is there every step of the way and refuses to let her son become hardened, to lose hope in the world.

This story is short but terribly important in the time we live in. It’s only at the end we find out this story is based off of Yusef Salaam who cowrites this story using his own experience, one of Central Park Five, now exonerated. It makes these details more chilling, more heartbreaking. Amal is a good kid who is treated horribly simply because he’s black, because he’s a male, because he’s Muslim, because he has no dad in the picture. Thankfully, there are people who see Amal for who he is, a kid who just wants to express himself in a way to cope with the injustice. Read this book. It’s so important.

5 stars