Book Review: Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
we were in the wrong place
we were in the wrong skins
we were in the wrong time
we were in the wrong bodies
we were in the wrong country
we were in the wrong"
Sometimes, our lives are guided by our mistakes and misgivings. Some are easy to correct, some with lasting consequences that we found ourselves living with them for years. Amal Shahid, found himself at just such a mistake: he never should've been at that basketball park where he knows his kind isn't well accepted. He knew as soon as he got there. It's a feeling he never should've ignored. As these stories go, a fight broke out and he, along with four of this friends, ended up in a juvenile detection facility. Amal, in particular, got the brunt of it all.
In there, Amal goes on a soul searching journey that involves a lot of anger, hurt, and self recriminations. The juvenile facility is not a safe harbour. It's filled with angry kids, and heavy handed adults. His small salvation was the visits from his Umi and letters from his family and this girl he liked but never had the gumption to approach. Through his art, he thought he may have a little freedom; to express how he feels, to fly outside of the 'box he was trapped in'. But life isn't nearly as forgiving as that.
There were certainly people who was willing to give him a chance. People who saw his worth and his abilities but there were more who wants to put him in him place and show him how cruel the world is.
Punching The Air is such a memorable book. Written in verse-form, the authors articulated exactly what it's like to be a young Black man in America, the injustice they face on a daily basis, and the desperate heartache their families feel when one of their loved ones are convicted of a crime they didn't commit. Because it is written in the first person narrative, readers are given an honest and emotional connection with Amal. I certainly felt his every hurt, and every anger.