A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
You are the author of your life. No matter your circumstances, the resources for positive change live within you.
Positive Role Models
Main character (narrator) is a Black Muslim teen. His relationship with his single mom is portrayed as loving, supportive. After being incarcerated, he finds helpers and role models in teachers and motivational speakers who volunteer at the prison and give him tools and encouragement to cope with his rage, nurture hope, and find his voice.
Violence & Scariness
A fistfight leaves a boy in the hospital, clinging to life. Scenes of prison fights and of young men being beaten by guards and other prisoners.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Talk of teen crushes and romance. While incarcerated, main character establishes a pen pal relationship with a young woman classmate he had a secret crush on.
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"F--k," "s--t," "ass," the "N" word, and "nigga."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Punching the Air, by Ibi Zoboi (American Street) and Yusef Salaam, is a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award Finalist about an incarcerated teen who maintains his sense of hope through art and poetry. Violence plays an important part of the story: A fistfight leaves a boy in the hospital, clinging to life. There are scenes of prison fights and of young men being beaten by guards and other prisoners. Strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass," the "N" word, and "nigga."
Is It Any Good?
This book is a page-turner: emotionally true, politically astute, and beautifully written. Author Idi Zoboi collaborated on Punching the Air with Yusef Salaam, a member of the Exonerated 5 (the "Central Park 5"), Black, Latino, and Muslim young men wrongly convicted of raping and beating a White woman in New York City's Central Park. The convictions were eventually vacated. The first-person narrator speaks in verse. This provides intimacy and emotional intensity, and is effective in communicating the quality of vivid dreams and fantasies.
Black-and-white illustrations simulate the appearance of a high school kid's composition book, with sketches and doodles on the pages. There's also interesting use of the arrangement of type on the page for effect.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.