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‘Punching The Air’ is Impactful and Beautifully Written – Book Review

An avid artist and poet, Amal is working toward a future in the arts. However, he faces obstacles at his diverse art school since he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a system that was never created for him. Despite this, Amal is doing what he loves – creating. 

However, an altercation in a gentrifying neighbourhood turns to tragedy and at the age of 16, Amal’s bright future is suddenly spoiled when he is convicted of a crime he did not commit. In prison, Amal has to deal with feelings of emptiness, anger, loss and sadness that threatens to sink him. Thankfully, Amal finds some refuge in the form of his words, his art. 

While this is something that never should have happened, Amal is unsure if he can change it. 

Punching The Air - Book Cover
Cover for Punching The Air (Courtesy of Balzer + Bray)

Written by Ibi Zoboi (Pride, American Street) and Dr. Yusef Salaam (of the Exonerated Five), Punching The Air is a book that everyone needs to read right now. Not only does it expertly show the many institutions (school system, justice system, prison system) that have failed Black people, especially Black youth, but poignantly portrays all of Amal’s various experiences. Beautifully written in verse, Punching The Air truly allows you to feel and experience everything that Amal goes through. From school to the fight, to the courtroom, to the prison cell, everything in Punching The Air is so visceral. 

As Punching The Air is the first book I’ve read written completely in verse, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect in terms of how it would tell the story. As it was written in verse, you truly felt as though the words you were reading were from Amal’s notebook, were written upon a piece of paper he was given. At every turn of the page, you were fully immersed in Amal’s life every step of the way.  While the verse makes it a book that one can read quickly, by no means is it in an easy read. It tackles subject matter that is oftentimes hard to read but is also the reality for Black youth in America and beyond. 

The emotional depth that Punching The Air has is truly unmatched. The rollercoaster of emotions that Amal goes through are the same emotions that become your own as you continue to read the novel. The weight and impact of Amal’s voice is powerful throughout the novel. We know that he truly never got the chance to be or feel like a kid because society is set up in a way that doesn’t see Black children as such. At every turn, he’s experienced a multitude of racism whether it’s perpetuated by other people or whether it’s a system that is set up in a way to discriminate against people, Amal continuously feels like there is no escape. However, despite how everything in the world is set up against him, Amal is still able to find hope which bursts forth in his art and poetry. 

Beautifully written and impactful, Punching The Air needs to be added to everyone’s to be read lists immediately. 

Punching The Air is available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo and your local independent bookstores now!

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