Book Club Pick

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Book Club Pick: November 2020

Title: Punching the Air

Author: Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

First Published: 2020

Pages: 386

Publisher Description:

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in his diverse art school, because of a biased system he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated. Then, one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighbourhood 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 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?


Amal Shahid is a Black Muslim teenager who has been accused of assaulting a white boy following a fight between a group of black teenagers and white teenagers.

The novel is written in first person verse. It is as if we are reading Amal’s words from his notebook. Amal is a talented artist and poet and was attending a prestigious fine arts school. This was his opportunity to not be another statistic – sadly at sixteen-years-old he found himself incarcerated at a juvenile detention centre.

Idi Zoboi collaborated with prison reform activist Dr. Yusef Salaam, a member of the Exonerated 5 (dubbed the “Central Park 5” by media), a group of young men wrongly convicted of raping and beating a white woman in New York City’s Central Park. The case that was highlighted in Ava Duvernay’s 2019 Netflix series When They See Us.

Punching the Air is a profound, challenging look at the flawed criminal justice system that many young Black Americans sadly face.

Click here to read my review of American Street (2017) by Ibi Zobi


Ibi Zoboi Official Website

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Ibi Zoboi on Instagram

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

By Graeme Cash

Film, television, theatre, popular media culture, ya fiction, travel...pretty much my life. Based in Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

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