Punching the Air (Book Review)

Hey y’all! I know I don’t usually post reviews on Wednesdays, but I decided to make a special exception for this new release. I recieved an eARC of Punching the Air for the tour that’s being organized by Karina @ Afire Pages. My official post for the tour will be going up on Friday.

StoryGraph Synopsis

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.

Trigger Warnings: racism, false imprisonment, abuse and violence, use of racial slur

Representation: Black main character, Muslim mc, POC supporting characters

Purchase Link: Bookshop

The Good

This was such an emotional, hard-hitting story. I actually met Yusef Salaam when he came to speak at my university and it was an amazing experience. He has a truly kind and gentle spirit, and it’s something you can really feel when he speaks. The way he’s turned that pain into something so uplifting and impactful is honestly something that I can’t even begin to comprehend.

The main character of this story is growing in his spiritual journey throughout the novel and that’s shown really beautifully here. Yusef is Muslim and I think this will be a story that a lot of young Muslims can relate to. I myself am Christian, but I love learning about other religions and reading about people going through their own spiritual journeys. I could definitely see parallels between how I grew in my own spirituality and how Amal is growing in his.

You really start to connect with Amal and his experiences throughout the story. That’s one of the things I really love about poetry and novels told through verse. Amal is an artist and poet, with both of those characteristics playing major roles in his life and his decisions. Amal also makes decisions that are definitely ones that teenage boys make. It’s truly the combination of wrong time, wrong place, and messed up system that lead him to where he is in the story.

The Not so Good

This is a very heavy read so make sure to go into this with that in mind. It’s beautifully told, but extremely heartbreaking.

All in All

This story reminded me a lot of Monster by Walter Dean Myers. I remember first reading it in middle school with my English class. It was so heartbreaking and really opened a lot of our eyes to just how hard life can be and how unjust the system is. I think Punching the Air can bring out those same feelings in the next generation of readers. It’s honestly perfect for classrooms and for reading on your own.

If you’re a fan of The Poet X, Clap When You Land, The Boy in the Black Suit, and many of my other personal faves, you’ll probably enjoy this story too.

4.75/5 Stars

Disclaimer: This post contains an affiliate link. It doesn’t change the price of the book, it just gives me a small percentage of the sale if you buy it using my link. No biggie though.

Have you read Punching the Air?

Is it on your TBR?

Are you a fan of novels told through verse?

Let me know in the comments below, let’s chat!


Author: Rachelle Saint Louis

Rachelle Saint Louis is a Haitian-American writer, born and raised in South Florida. She received a 2018 Silver Medal in the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition for her poem “Red Blood Cell.” She is currently a Psychology and English double major at Florida Atlantic University. Her poetry has been published in Rigorous Magazine. Rachelle has been writing poetry since the 7th grade and you can often find her performing Spoken Word at local open mics.

11 thoughts on “Punching the Air (Book Review)”

  1. I hadn’t heard of this one, so thanks for the review. I’ve definitely added it to my want to read pile.

    I’m not usually a fan of novels in verse–but I’ve read some that were really well done (Audacity, for example), so I’m more open to it than I used to be.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hope you end up enjoying it 😀 If you’re looking for more novels in verse to try out I would definitely recommend checking out Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X and her Clap When You Land. I’ve heard a lot of people who aren’t into poetry have loved them and I personally really enjoy her work. I would also recommend Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, it’s an excellent novel in verse 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much 😀 I’m so happy you’re excited and it’s definitely better to go in prepared 🙂
      Meeting Yusef Salaam was honestly such a blessing and I wish him the best in the future because he really is amazing


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