Punching the Air

HarperAudio. 2020. 429p. $25.99. ISBN 9781799940388.
Gr 8 Up–Amal Shahid is in jail for something he didn’t do. The only way his name will be cleared is if the victim wakes up from a coma. This novel in verse tells Amal’s story—about what it is like during the trial and for him in jail but the narrative also flashes back to the moments of his life where he could have been given the chance to excel but wasn’t. Despite setback after setback, Amal continues to fight for the truth and for his freedom and turns to poetry and art to express himself. Coauthors Zoboi and Salaam paint a heartbreakingly clear picture of life for a Black, male teenager in the New York City juvenile detention system. While this is not based specifically on Salaam’s experiences as one of the Exonerated Five, his wrongful conviction and his current work as a prison reform activist provide a powerful and necessary insight. Narrator Ethan Herisse embodies the lyricism and emotion portrayed throughout this short book, bringing Amal’s pain, anger, and frustration to the surface in a way that will resonate with audiences of any age. Be sure to also read the Author’s Note at the end.
VERDICT This is a must read/listen. While this is a story of injustice, it is also the story of a boy and his humanity.

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