Tuesday 3 November 2020

Punching the Air

Punching the Air
by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (Harper Collins UK) ISBN 9780008422141 PB RRP $19.99

Reviewed by Claire Stuckey

Based on the true-life story of Yusef Salaam, this novel introduces Amal who at   16 is tried and convicted of a crime that he did not commit. We follow his story from trial to incarceration blending free verse with the occasional rap. He explains the legal process that leads him like so many other angry young black men in America into gaol. From a difficult school life, he achieves entry into a special high school art class only to find the restrictive curriculum oppressive and the bias just as pervasive. The content reflects often on family and his religion through titled verse and symbolism rather than chapters.

Art, symbolism, and contemplation provide windows into the prison issues including racist officers and violence recorded in his stories. Those that teach or are compassionate come and go leaving some hope and inspiration to young men struggling against the system or being broken by it. Eventually the original the five young men charged become known as the “exonerated five”, all served years behind bars because of a skewed justice system but are eventually cleared.

Although the case generated high media coverage in the United States, it was only covered briefly here in Australia although a movie and series retold their story. With the Black Lives Matter movement so prominent internationally, this book provides some real insight into the background of this movement today. This book is professionally written and intelligently relates the emotionally charged years that dominated one teenage life. Using the name of Amal, Dr Yusef Salaam has worked in collaboration with author Ibi Zoboi to produce this insight to the American justice system and culture. 

Highly recommended for teenage readers 13-18 years.

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