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Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* A single punch leads to a fight between Amal and his friends—all Black—and a group of white boys from a gentrifying part of his neighborhood. Amal is found guilty of assault while his friends are given plea deals. All are sent to prison, while the white boys involved are not charged at all. In prison, Amal gets a stark education on how unjust the justice system is as he witnesses guards abusing their power, administrators carelessly ignoring the welfare of the imprisoned as if their lives are disposable, and the avenues of "rehabilitation" proving to be decrepit and empty. Only Amal's painting and poetry allow him to withstand the torture of physical beatings and solitary confinement. Zoboi worked with prison reform activist Yusef Salaam to create Amal's story in verse. Yusef himself was a victim of wrongful incarceration when he and four other young men were convicted of a crime they did not commit. His experiences lend a visceral gravitas to Zoboi's pen, and together they capture Amal's emotional struggles as he grasps for hope despite his circumstances. Moreover, they accurately depict the justice system as an engine fine-tuned to crush the urban poor and young Black men in particular. Prescient and sobering, Zoboi's book is a vital story for young readers in a tumultuous time. Grades 9-12. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Zoboi (Pride) and Salaam (one of the Exonerated Five) together craft a powerful indictment of institutional racism and mass incarceration through the imagined experience of Amal, a Black, Muslim 16-year-old facing imprisonment. Amal, a gifted artist and poet attending a prestigious fine arts high school, has his life turned upside down when a nighttime park confrontation leaves a white kid from the other side "of that invisible line/ we weren't supposed to cross" in a coma, and Amal and his four friends on the hook for assault and battery they did not commit. Using free verse, Zoboi and Salaam experiment with style, structure, and repetition to portray "old soul" Amal's struggle to hold on to his humanity through the chaotic, often dehumanizing experience of juvenile incarceration. From the trial onward, the authors liken the pervasive imprisonment of Black bodies to the history of chattel slavery in America ("and this door leads to a slave ship/ and maybe jail"), and describe how educational racism feeds Black students into the school-to-prison pipeline ("I failed the class/ she failed me"). Zoboi and Salaam deliver an unfiltered perspective of the anti-Blackness upholding the U.S. criminal justice system through the eyes of a wrongly convicted Black boy ("shaping me into/ the monster/ they wanted me to be"). Ages 14–up. Agent (for Zoboi and Salaam): Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary. (Sept.)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 8 Up—Sixteen-year-old Amal is tried and convicted of an act of violence against a white boy. While there is a sense that he might not have done what he was accused of doing, it is unimportant whether this is the case for the book to work. Through Amal's first-person verse narration, readers learn about his aspirations as a poet and artist, as well as his experience entering the prison system as a young Black man. It is clear that Amal has had a complex relationship with his education, particularly with his art teacher, who clearly saw his talent but also did not work very hard to support Amal's burgeoning interest, and did a bad job of being a character witness at his trial. The authors do an excellent job of showing how the prison experience can dehumanize young men and how their inherent talents can be overshadowed by their feelings of powerlessness and rage. Coauthored by Zoboi and Salaam, who is one of the Exonerated Five and, as such, has firsthand experience of serving an unfair and unjust prison sentence, this book is not a memoir. Instead, it can be seen as an important statement about widespread experiences and the prison industrial complex, rather than the depiction of a single, notable case. What is clear is that this is not an isolated story. VERDICT This book will be Walter Dean Myers's Monster for a new generation of teens. An important, powerful, and beautiful novel that should be an essential purchase for any library that serves teens.—Kristin Lee Anderson, Jackson County Lib. Svcs., OR

Copyright 2020 School Library Journal.


The award-winning author of American Street and the prison reform activist of the Exonerated Five trace the story of a young artist and poet whose prospects at a diverse art school are threatened by a racially biased system and a tragic altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood. 150,000 first printing. Simultaneous eBook. - (Baker & Taylor)

New York Times and USA Today bestseller * Walter Award Winner * Goodreads Finalist for Best Teen Book of the Year * Time Magazine Best Book of the Year * Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year * Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year  * School Library Journal Best Book of the Year * Kirkus Best Book of the Year * New York Public Library Best Book of the Year

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. One of the most acclaimed YA novels of the year, this New York Times and USA Today bestseller is a must-read for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn&;t start on the day

I was born 

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, because of a biased system he&;s seen as disruptive and unmotivated. Then, one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. &;Boys just being boys&; turns out to be true only when those boys are white. 

The story that I think

will be my life 

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal 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.


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