Review: Punching the Air [audiobook]

Title: Punching the Air
Author: Ibi Zoboi, Yusef Salaam
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Poetry
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Audiobook
Release Date: September 1, 2020
Rating: ★★★★★


Goodreads 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.


At sixteen, Amal Shahid was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. He was an artistic student and a poet. The only way he can survive prison is to express himself through his art. Over and over again Amal is let down by the adults around him. He needs to figure out how to speak his truth and fight for justice.

This is a story written in verse. The poetry suited the emotional story. Amal had a lot of emotions that he expressed through his art. He was able to explore his anger in a constructive way by writing poetry and drawing. This story couldn’t have been told the same way if it was written in prose rather than verse.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. The physical book has some illustrations that I missed out on in the audio version. However, I loved the narrator for the book. He sounded like a teenage boy, so it was like Amal was telling his story. He put a lot of emotion behind the words, which made the story come alive. I really want to check out the physical copy to see the art, but the audio was very good!

This is a great, powerful story!

Thank you Balzer + Bray for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Have you read Punching the Air? What did you think of it?


Author: jilljemmett

Jill lives in Toronto, Canada. She has studied English, Creative Writing, and Publishing. Jill is the creator and content producer of Jill’s Book Blog, where she has published a blog post every day for the last four years, including 5-7 book reviews a week. She can usually be found with her nose in a book.

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