Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yuself Salaam
Genre: Young adult, social justice, antiracism
Format: NetGalley ALC
Rating: 5 stars
Zoboi and Salaam have written an amazing own voices novel about social justice and the perceptions the world holds for young Black men. This tells the story of Amal, a Black teen incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. He shares his story through verse, showing how the world decided to place labels and restrictions on him for his whole life and the world never really took the time to get to know him. He is in prison because he was involved in an altercation with a white teenager who ended up in a coma. The entire story is gripping, sad, hopeful, and anger inducing. It evoked so many emotions inside of me, and I am so grateful to have listened to this audiobook because it resounded with me even more.
The narrator, voiced by Ethan Herrise, does a phenomenal job of giving us Amal and his story. He was the perfect fit for the Black teen. I could hear the emotions in his voice, the sadness and anger. But most of all, the hope. I do not think a better narrator could have been chosen, and I savored every word and verse even more so due to the superb narrator.
Amal tells how he’s been marked as the problem kid. His teachers think he is angry and write him off. His mom even thinks he’s got some anger and worries when he skips school. But Amal is tired of being shoved into boxes and no one taking the time to know him. He loves art and poetry, but no one gets to see this side of him. He wants to find the courage to express himself with the world, but this is not an easy feat with how the world looks at him. Especially when he is now seen as a felon. Even if he did not commit the crime.
I loved the verse of the story. It talks about birth and life, the unfair treatment of black people in society, racial injustice, the need for prison reform, and even how hope is important. Some of the verses were written by Yuself Salaam when he was in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was one of the Central Park Five. Hearing about his story in the afterword was interesting, and I enjoyed his perspective for the story.
This is such an important book I hope many people, young and old will read it. The world treats black people terribly, and something needs to be done about it. While I don’t have answers and need to learn more and educate myself, this book is a a good place to start. It shares the fictional story of a teen locked up for something he did not do, marked off just for being Black. And when you learn about what punching the air means in the story, it also stirs up many emotions and will make you see change needs to happen and we need to see Black teens as teens and not other them.
This is one of the best audiobooks I have listened to in a long time. I cannot suggest this story enough.
Thank you NetGalley and Harper Audio for the ALC in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.