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  • Writer's pictureGrieshaber

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Amal was there, that night when everything went wrong and Jeremy Mathis ended up in a coma. But Amal didn’t do it but he WAS sick to death of those white boys yelling “n-” at him and his friends. When you’re young and black in America, it’s guilty until proven innocent so Amal is wrongly convicted. Punching the Air exposes the inequities of the justice system (especially as they apply to the young and black) and shows the healing power of art. This story is told all the more powerfully through its verse format. Super-quick and engaging read. Excellent and fast audiobook. Pairs extremely well with Nic Stone’s latest, Dear Justyce.

Author, Ibi Zoboi teamed up with Yusef Salaam to write this book. Yusef is well-known for being wrongly convicted in 1989’s Central Park Jogger murder case. He and his alleged conspirators (known as the Central Park Five) served years in prison until they were exonerated in 2002. Zoboi has long been interested in the disparities in the criminal justice system and how the media portrays black children. She interviewed Salaam in 1999 and met him again in 2017. During this second meeting, he expressed his interest in speaking with teens. That’s when Zoboi got the idea to write a YA book together. Punching the Air is not a fictionalized account of Salaam’s story; however, he and the character of Amal have much in common. Both were: wrongly incarcerated, had the support of family, read lots of books, created art to keep their minds free, and made wrong moves as young men that threatened their entire lives. Salaam and Zoboi’s goal was to tell an “indomitable human nature” story that showed the “power of art and belief in transcendence.” They succeeded.

Below, read the blog post, "Why Yusef Salaam and Ibi Zoboi Collaborated on Punching the Air" from We Need Diverse Books' website.


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