HarperCollins Children's to publish book by one of 'Exonerated Five'

HarperCollins Children's to publish book by one of 'Exonerated Five'

HarperCollins Children's Books will publish Punching the Air, a YA novel about a black Muslim teen who is wrongfully sentenced to prison. 

The book is a collaboration between Dr Yusef Salaam, a member of “The Exonerated Five” (formerly known as “The Central Park Five”), and Ibi Zoboi, author of Pride and the US National Book Award finalist American Street.

Alessandra Balzer, vice-president and co-publisher of Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books US and Harriet Wilson, publishing director at HarperCollins Children’s Books UK, secured world English rights from Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Film and TV rights are being handled by ICM Partners.

The book will be published simultaneously in the UK and US on 1st September 2020. 

Salaam and Zoboi met in a class at Hunter College in 1999, two years after Salaam was released from prison. Salaam was 15 when he and four other Black and Latino boys were falsely accused in New York's Central Park jogger rape case. He was convicted, and sent to prison for assault and rape in 1989, with the conviction overturned in 2002. The two authors met again when Zoboi was promoting her debut novel and the idea to co-write a young adult novel, inspired in part by Salaam’s experiences, was born.

Punching the Air follows Amal Shahid an artist who, even in a diverse school, is seen as disruptive and unmotivated in a biased system. One fateful night an altercation in a gentrified neighbourhood escalates into tragedy. Suddenly, at just 16 years old, Amal’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.

Zoboi commented: "At the center of Amal’s story is the cycle of racial violence that continues to plague the United States. But this is not just a story about a crime or race. It’s about the power of art, faith, and transcendence in the most debilitating circumstances."

Salaam added: "Punching the Air reflects not only my story, but the stories of millions of young boys and girls of color who face the injustice of mass incarceration and the criminal justice system. Books have the power to change the way we think and transform societies. This novel is a continuation of my work to shine a light on the reality of the criminal justice system in the U.S. and inspire young people to advocate for change."

Wilson said: "I am extremely proud to be publishing Amal’s story for a UK audience. While set in the US penal system, this story speaks to us all, challenging us to examine the deep injustices in our societies."