Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Punching The Air uses prose poetry and sparse illustrations to convey a small slice of how it feels to be accused and incarcerated. It is evocative and moving, often despairing and frequently beautiful. 

It was absorbing, sketching the edges of the broader systems of racism which funnel Black people specifically and people of color generally into prison. It delves into the details of how this could go for one person and has gone for many. It’s fiction that mirrors fact. It does something that isn’t quite world building, because it’s set now, but it’s world-illuminating, poking into the often-hidden corners of our unjust reality.

It’s filled with emotional swings, where the MC attempts to gain some stability, some moments of happiness, then something tears it down. It’s about cruelty without being a cruel book, it’s about racism and bitterness without being a bitter story. It handles a difficult story deftly and I’m in awe.

CW for imprisonment, violence, assault.

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A purple and orange butterfly turns into a swirl of matching paint which loops upwards around a Black boy and his upheld fist.


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