Review | Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam

Punching the Air

by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam

YA Contemporary, Verse

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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.


I had only heard good things about this book, so of course I had to pick it up and check it out for myself. I am so glad I did because it was as brilliant as everyone is saying it is!

Following the story of Amal, who is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, on the basis of the colour of his skin instead. We follow his life in the prison as he desperately attempts to keep his head above water and stay inspired by his art and hope for a better future. But in a prison full of despair and upset, it will prove harder than he thought.

I thought this was so incredibly beautiful and powerful. Like many people I’m sure, I had to pause after every other sentence because the language used was so gorgeous. I also really love how Ibi Zoboi worked with Yusef Salaam on this book. Although it’s not his exact story, it’s definitely inspired and his involvement brings such an authenticity to the book.

I love a good verse novel, I think we all know that by now. I just love how quickly you can absorb the story and it really takes talent on the author’s part to be so tight and concise with their choice of language. I definitely think Zoboi and Salaam should be applauded for this and their excellent attention to detail.

A great story, with a fantastic main character. Really important and timely, too. This is a must read.