cover image Punching the Air

Punching the Air

Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $19.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-299648-0

Zoboi (Pride) and Salaam (one of the Exonerated Five) together craft a powerful indictment of institutional racism and mass incarceration through the imagined experience of Amal, a Black, Muslim 16-year-old facing imprisonment. Amal, a gifted artist and poet attending a prestigious fine arts high school, has his life turned upside down when a nighttime park confrontation leaves a white kid from the other side “of that invisible line/ we weren’t supposed to cross” in a coma, and Amal and his four friends on the hook for assault and battery they did not commit. Using free verse, Zoboi and Salaam experiment with style, structure, and repetition to portray “old soul” Amal’s struggle to hold on to his humanity through the chaotic, often dehumanizing experience of juvenile incarceration. From the trial onward, the authors liken the pervasive imprisonment of Black bodies to the history of chattel slavery in America (“and this door leads to a slave ship/ and maybe jail”), and describe how educational racism feeds Black students into the school-to-prison pipeline (“I failed the class/ she failed me”). Zoboi and Salaam deliver an unfiltered perspective of the anti-Blackness upholding the U.S. criminal justice system through the eyes of a wrongly convicted Black boy (“shaping me into/ the monster/ they wanted me to be”). Ages 14–up. Agent (for Zoboi and Salaam): Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary. (Sept.)