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This weekend’s pick is another celebration of beauty in narrative verse: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, a National Book Award finalist. I am absolutely in love with this text, and I can’t recommend it enough for everyone to read, especially as we continue to recognize National Poetry Month this April - the minute I finished it I turned right back to the beginning to start rereading it! This is the story of Amal Shahid, a young Black teen who at the beginning of the story finds himself in the courts, awaiting a verdict after being charged with aggravated assault and battery after a neighborhood fight he and his friends were involved in. The reader doesn’t know all the details of the fight yet; those details come out as the story progresses, when Amal is found guilty and sent to a juvenile detention center. And so the reader begins a journey with Amal in hopes that his conviction will be overturned. Each page brings a new poem with a provocative title that speaks to that sense of hope in the face of injustice.
But Amal’s story is unique to his own identity and experience, as would be that of every other boy in that detention center - something the reader comes to understand as they listen to Amal. Amal is not just a boy who made a mistake, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time - he is a poet and an artist. He is a passionate young man with a thirst for knowledge and a love for deep books. He is a son, and a brother, and a friend, and a romantic interest, and the reader gets to know him in all these ways. He is more than the crime itself, or the headlines, or the brief quips of those who spoke at his trial (watch for the testimony of his art teacher, Ms. Rinaldi, if you want to see how injustice perpetuates itself in our school and court systems).