Punching the Air Summary | Yusef Salaam

Punching the Air Summary. Punching the Air Book is a young adult novel-in-verse by Ibi Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam, published September 1, 2020 by Balzer + Bray.

The book is a New York Times best seller and Junior Library Guild book. It has also won the Los Angeles Times Book Pize for Young Adult Literature and the Walter Dean Myers Award.

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Punching the Air Summary

Punching the Air Summary

Amal sits in the courtroom with his family at his trial for a fight he was involved in with a white boy, Jeremy Mathis, who is now in a comatose state. Peer witnesses are called from his specialized art high school across town in East Hills, a predominately white neighborhood. Amal tries to believe his lawyer, Clyde, that everything will be okay and that his family will still love him no matter what the verdict is.

Amal is found guilty and transferred to a juvenile corrections facility. He struggles to sleep on his first night in the facility while he thinks about how Allah could have allowed him to be in such a horrible place. Amal attends math class with the other incarcerated boys, but the class is constantly interrupted and derailed. One of the other boys, Kadon, bothers Amal during their free recreation time by grabbing his crayons. Amal enjoys artistic expression as a way to manage his stress, anxiety, and fear about being incarcerated.

Amal is confined to his cell after an altercation with a racist prison guard, and he nearly goes insane in solitary confinement. He feels as though he is fighting against Allah and trying to hold himself together all at the same time. He sees his mother and his lawyer on visiting days. They tell him that Jeremy Mathis' condition has stabilized and they plan to do everything they can to get him out soon.

Amal receives letters from a girl he had a crush on back in school, Zenobia. She writes that she always believed his version of the night the fight took place and she promises that she never forgot him. Amal begins to send poems and drawings back to Zenobia to show her that he remembers her too. Amal waits for his Uncle Rashon to come visit the facility, but it is still too painful for Rashon to see his nephew incarcerated.

Amal becomes closer to Kadon, Amir, Smoke, and Rahmarley. He is allowed to join Ms. Imani Dawson's poetry class. She asks the boys about their feelings regarding their pasts and what the truth is about their lives. Amal leaves the room and thinks about all of the small mistakes and misgivings that he has for the night of the fight that changed his life.

Amal begins to share his story in the poetry class and he feels like all of the boys have formed some kind of brotherhood to help them maintain their sanity through incarceration. He is offered the opportunity to paint a mural in the visitation room as his final project with his friends. He enjoys painting the mural and he finally begins to feel free. The next day, the guards have painted over the mural, and Amal is dejected.

Amal resolves not to give up and finds himself strengthened by his Uncle Rashon's visit. Rashon encourages him to keep his head held high. Jeremy Mathis finally wakes up, and Amal gets a new lawyer to work on getting his case revisited. Amal mails an envelope of his art to Ms. Dawes.

You may also like to read: All Your Perfects Book Summary

Punching the Air Themes

  • Racial injustice and systemic bias.
  • The power of art and storytelling.
  • Resilience and hope in the face of adversity.
  • The importance of community and solidarity.
  • The fight for freedom and justice.

You may also like to read: Punching the Air Quotes

Questions and Answers about Punching the Air Book

What is the message of Punching the Air? Punching the Air is about the power of art, faith, and transcendence in the most debilitating circumstances. It's our hope that all readers will experience the journey of a boy who finds himself in a heated moment where one wrong move threatens his future, and how he uses his art to express his truth, the truth.

What happens at the end of Punching the Air? With a crayon and paper “this little bit of freedom in my hands” the story culminates in an unforgettable last line "My truth” and the story ends with the hopeful act of Amal telling the world who he is on his own terms, through his art.

What did Amal do in Punching the Air? Amal Shahid is the protagonist and narrator of Punching the Air. At the age of 16, he was wrongfully convicted of beating Jeremy Mathis into a coma with his skateboard.

What are the social issues in Punching the Air? We chose this book for its nuanced exploration of some timely social and emotional themes: choices and consequences, systemic racism, criminal justice, artistic expression, family, and liberation.

What does the butterfly symbolize in Punching the Air? Amal's art becomes a representation of his freedom, particularly when he starts painting butterflies. When in solitary confinement, Amal can still see the butterflies he drew on the walls “fluttering around [his] head / as if telling [him] a secret” (303).

Is Punching the Air Based on a true story? Together, they have created the novel-in-verse Punching the Air, out September 1, a fictional story based upon Salaam's life. Told through a series of verse poems, the novel follows 16-year-old Amal Shahid, a brilliantly talented artist whose life is tragically upended when he is convicted of a crime he did not commit.

Why should I read Punching the Air? 'Punching The Air' is not only a very beautiful book in terms of its structure and imagery, its also really relevant for things that are happening right now. It uses themes of racism and justice which are both so important to bring to light for kids no matter the age.

Who is the main character in Punching the Air? Amal Shadid is a 16-year-old black Muslim and the main character in the novel. He goes to a diverse art school where he does art and poetry. Amal has a bright and promising future but is seen as disruptive and unmotivated because of his skin color.

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