Punching The Air | Book Review

Sunday, 11 October 2020

 Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam is about a young man named Amal Shahid how gets wrongfully accused of a violent crime and sent to a juvenile detention facility. This story, written in verse, is about Amal and how he fights to maintain his sense of self and humanity in a prison that aims to break him. This story is loosely based on Yusef Salaam’s experience was one of the Central Park Five.



I received this audiobook as an advanced listening copy from Net Galley and Harper Audio in exchange for an honest review and honestly, I’m thankful I got to listen to this.

Books in verse are always hit or miss for me because poetry can be a more fluid art form that can leave more up to interpretation than prose can. This story was easy to follow but the ease of reading (or listening in my case) didn’t stop it from being deep and meaningful.

The narrator, Ethan Herisse, did a wonderful job and had a unique voice for all the characters. His cadence carried the intensity of the verse wonderfully and he helped me get lost in the story.

Amal was a great character because he was wonderfully in the middle. He wasn’t some perfect angel of a kid but on the other side of things, he wasn’t some “bad kid” who always got into trouble. It could be said that Amal has a bad attitude. He has a problem with authority figures who don’t seem to believe in him and more than once his first instinct is to throw a punch.  He’s a very realistic young man and I think it helps to show that this type of injustice can happen to anyone.

Punching the Air is very blunt about prison. Nothing graphic happens but there is violence against inmates, some of which obviously comes from a place of racism. But there’s also a few positive elements too like a kind guard, a friend Amal makes, and a poetry class that captures his attention. But the good stuff never once made prison look like anything other than an awful place. It just showed that Amal was finding ways to stay sane during it all.

This story has an important message. We need prison reform and we need to share stories about those who were wrongfully incarcerated as well as those who did commit a crime, but got harsher sentences due to the color of their skin, as well as addressing the treatment of prisoners.

Punching the Air is a wonderful book that tells an important story and it does so with a memorable main character and it’s written in a style that captured my attention from the first moment.

Punching the Air gets a 10 out of 11

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