Review: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

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Goodreads | Waterstones

One fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighbourhood escalates into tragedy. ‘Boys just being boys’ turns out to be true only when those boys are white.
Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal Shahid’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.

This book is based on the real story of Yusef Salaam, who was one of the five people wrongly accused of assault and rape in the Central Park jogger case in 1989. He is also the co-author of this book alongside Ibi Zoboi. You can read more about his case and the Innocence Project here.

This book is definitely a must read. It is told in verse, and is a very emotional, honest and poignant story. Amal made for a sympathetic protagonist who reflects the story of Salaam well. Following similar themes of discrimination, racial profiling and injustice that the real life version followed, I found this one very hard hitting.

When you find yourself in dark places, there’s always a light somewhere in that darkness,

This story is told through verse, and the writing is absolutely beautiful but still conveys the story well. My only complaint is I felt some of the parts of this book were almost out of reach – a little too abstract to properly convey the story of this boy. I craved something slightly more tangible to hold onto in the writing. I felt a little disconnected to the main character in a time where I really wanted to be connected to him.

However, I did really like the portrayal of Amal’s family and fellow inmates. His story made me so hopeful for him but so angry at the cruel injustice of the world and sometimes, the law. I just wanted more from his story, and more of a connection to the people in it.

and even if that light is inside of you, you can illuminate your own darkness by shedding that light on the world.

This book and story are so important and need to be shed light on. Even though Salaam has been free for 18 years now, we cannot ever forgive the system for what the exonerated five went through. I’m so glad this book is out there to tell me their story and sadly, the story of many others like them. It is an emotional, hopeful journey told through verse and illustrations.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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Review: Pride by Ibi Zoboi

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Goodreads | Waterstones

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.
When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.
But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.

This was an absolutely wonderful, diverse retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I haven’t actually read Pride and Prejudice yet, although it’s on the cards for this year! So this is a little bit of a strange one to review as a retelling, and I am tempted to re-read it after I’ve read the original story.

I love the whole idea of this book, taking the themes of Austen (female strength and class in particular) and bringing them into a Black neighbourhood in Brooklyn. This book is written from the point of view of Zuri, who has 5 sisters and lives in a one bedroom apartment with her family. The neighbourhood she loves so much is changing, and this is especially highlighted when the Darcy’s move in opposite, a wealthy family new to the neighbourhood.

We’re not gonna throw away the past as if it meant nothing. See?

I loved how rich the culture was in this book. Zuri feels like such a genuine character who has so many layers to her, and I really liked her as a strong, kick-ass female main character. We need more female role models like her in YA who are definitely not scared to stand up for themselves!

Zuri’s growth throughout this book may have been my favourite part. I really enjoyed reading about her thoughts, feelings and pride for her neighbourhood and her family. The group of sisters were a joy to read about and I loved how strong they were as a family unit. There was an interesting – although not particularly memorable – cast of side characters, who did make me smile along the way.

I liked the romance and felt like it was really well written and genuine. I really enjoyed how the characters got to know each other over the course of a few dates and had some difficult situations which they overcame together. Some aspects didn’t feel quite as fleshed out as I wanted, but for a short contemporary they were enjoyable enough to read about!

That’s what happens to whole neighborhoods. We built something, it was messy, but we’re not gonna throw it away.

I loved how much Zuri talked about her culture, family and pride for the neighbourhood. She also stood completely on her own as a strong, independent women and the romance didn’t feel necessary to her life, which I really liked. Overall, this was a great, very diverse contemporary which I really enjoyed!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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