Title: Punching the Air

Author(s): Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam

Publisher: Balzer+Bray

Publishing Date: Sept. 1st 2020

Pages: 400

Age Category & Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, Fiction, Poetry


From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

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.

|CW: racism, microaggression, violence, use of racial slurs|

Rating: 5 out of 5.

5 stars for Punching the Air

|Disclaimer: I was provided with this advanced review copy by HarperCollins International and Edelweiss for in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.|

Punching the Air is a realistic and touching story about a sixteen year old Black Muslim boy, Amal Shahid, who is wrongly incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit.

This book blew me away with how simply brilliant it was. If it was possible for me to highlight the entire ARC, I think I would have. From the very beginning, Punching the Air literally had punched me in the guts, but quite seriously this book hooked me and had me emotional.

Punching the Air explores, or rather displays, racism, judicial racism, the prison industry and the reality of being Black in the US or anywhere else in the world where we’re seen as other.

Amal is an example of thousands of other Black boy, and in extension Black people, are wrongly sentenced by a broken system or maybe it isn’t truly broken but simply designed that way. A system that criminalises and dehumanises Black bodies. A system that calls Black teens and babies adults. A system that would call a Black sixteen year old boy a young man, but a white boy of the same age a mere boy. A system that is supposed to be fair and see in black and white, and it does see in Black and White. It sees that Black is guilty and evil, and White is innocent and pure.

Punching the Air is a story that shows how this system, which exists almost everywhere, harms Black people. How Black people are judged by the colour of our skins, because our skins must tell our entire stories, right?

While I must stay the message in Punching the Air makes it a masterpiece already, the writing itself is a wonder on its own.

I’ve never read a full story in verse, and I’m glad Punching the Air was my introduction to this beautiful form of writing. Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam’s writing conveyed the story expertly. They had me feeling everything Amal was feeling. For the duration of time I was reading this book, I was this sixteen year old boy who loved poetry and art, who had high hopes, dreams and aspirations, who just had my life uprooted and my story rewritten. That is how good the writing and delivery was.

A must read…

I feel like I haven’t done this book justice and I probably won’t ever be able to even if I had all the right words because how can I ever put them all together.

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read and I’d like to thank the authors for enriching my life with this work.

Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Book Depository | Goodreads

About the Authors

Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her novel American Street was a National Book Award finalist and a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of Pride and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, a New York Times bestseller, and Punching the Air with co-author and Exonerated Five member, Yusef Salaam. She is the editor of the anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. Raised in New York City, she now lives in New Jersey with her husband and their three children.

Dr. Yusef Salaam was just fifteen years old when his life was upended after being wrongly convicted with four other boys in the “Central Park jogger” case. In 2002, after the young men spent years of their lives behind bars, their sentences were overturned. Now known as the Exonerated Five, their story has been documented in the award-winning film The Central Park Five by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon and in Ava DuVernay’s highly acclaimed series When They See Us. Yusef is now a poet, activist, and inspirational speaker. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama, among other honors. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, Sanovia, and their children. You can find him online at


Enter below to win a copy of Punching the Air! This giveaway is open internationally and sponsored by HarperCollins International. And will end on September 30, 2020.

Rafflecopter giveaway

You can check out the rest of the tour here

Have you read Punching the Air yet? What’s a book you adored lately?

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  1. I am definitely adding this to my TBR, thank you for this thoughtful and informative review!

    I’ve actually never seen a blog tour post before and appreciate all of the detail you’ve put in.

    The last book I adored was Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina. I feel like I can’t quite describe how much I loved this book – but a definite 5 star read for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds so good! I’m trying to get into verse books, and I don’t mind adding this one to the list. The last book that I adored was Daughters of Nri 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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