Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi, Yusef Salaam

Punching the Air

Ibi Zoboi, Yusef Salaam

fiction Contemporary Poetry Young Adult
challenging emotional reflective medium-paced
From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood 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’s bright future is upended: he 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?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

What the community thinks

summary of 61 ratings (see reviews)


emotional 83%
challenging 62%
reflective 62%
inspiring 54%
hopeful 41%
informative 33%
sad 29%
tense 29%
dark 20%


fast 47%
medium 43%
slow 8%

Strong character development?

Yes: 68% | It's complicated: 31%

Loveable characters?

Yes: 68% | It's complicated: 25% | N/A: 6%

Diverse cast of characters?

Yes: 94% | It's complicated: 5%

Flaws of characters centre-stage?

Yes: 87% | It's complicated: 12%

Average rating