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Punching the Air

A MUST-READ: about being Black, systemic racism in America, and the injustice of prison.


Genre: YA novel in verse

Ages: 15/16 and up

Available: Amazon


Islamic screening: cusswords, the n word, violence/bloody fights, girlfriends but no intimacy, some questionable statements about God


Wow, my heart was so involved from the moment I started this novel in verse, and I couldn’t stop reading until I finished it!


Amal is a young Black teenager in high school who is arrested for assault of a white teen. He knows he threw the first punch in the fight, but is innocent of the punch that put the other boy into a coma. The reader is narrated the arrest, the court hearing, the days before and after the fight, the verdict and subsequent sentence to juvenile detention. In jail, Amal struggles against the chains that bind him and tries to fly free, like a butterfly that can flutter upwards and change the future. And using his art and his voice in poetry…the book leaves the reader with a sense of hope- the exact Arabic definition of Amal’s name.


Amal’s Umi is a practicing Muslim, who encourages him to pray, reads Quran and wears hijab. Amal does identify as a Muslim, but he questions God in the aftermath of what happens to him. He does recognize hope as from Allah in the end though.


Amal’s story is based on the real story of @dr.yusefsalaam . If you have heard about the Exonerated Five, you know about the systemic injustice done to these five black teens, one of whom was Yusef. Amal’s story compares the chains of prison to those of slavery, and it quite successfully teaches and educates the reader on the harmful racism embedded in our justice system.


The book is written so well, and it contains so powerful a message for readers. The reality of racism is explored with Amal not able to learn about Black artists in school and how he was failed for being different than his white peers, with Amal given different labels than the white teens in the fight like thugs vs boys, and the reality of prison,

and how it breaks young people’s spirits.


I pray that we, as a society, are able to stop racism and injustice, and the first way to do that is to read and get educated.


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