Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi (American Street) and activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five tells the unforgettable story of Amal Shahid, a teenager incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. Zoboi and Salaam masterfully join forces in this mesmerizing Indie Next List novel-in-verse. The poems--sharp, uninhibited and full of metaphors and sensory language--quickly establish Amal's voice, laying bare the anger, despair, hope and talent it holds.
While Zoboi and Salaam create a young protagonist who is truly exceptional, they simultaneously show that his situation is far from exceptional in the U.S. Amal's interactions in jail show the disproportionate impact of police brutality, mass incarceration and biased legal systems on Black young men. Amal's experience of abuse by the system, as well as his peers', incites raw outrage, but his artistic self-expression offers a subtle yet significant kind of hope. --Sylvia Al-Mateen, freelance reviewer and editor