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Warrior Princess.

That’s what Nigeria’s father calls her. He’s raised her as part of the Movement, a Black separatist group based in Philadelphia. Nigeria is homeschooled and vegan and participates in traditional rituals that connect her and other kids from the group to their ancestors. But when her mother—the perfect matriarch to their Movement—disappears, Nigeria’s world is upended. She finds herself taking care of her baby brother and stepping into a role she doesn’t want.

Nigeria’s mother had secrets. She wished for a different life for her children, which includes sending her daughter to a private Quaker school outside of their strict group. Despite her father’s disapproval, Nigeria attends the school with her cousin, Kamau, and Sage, who used to be a friend. There, she slowly begins to blossom and expand her universe.

As Nigeria searches for her mother, she starts to uncover a shocking truth. One that will lead her to question everything she thought she knew about her life and her family.

From award-winning author Ibi Zoboi comes a searing, powerful coming-of-age story about discovering who you are in the world—and fighting for that person—by having the courage to remix the founding tenets of your life to be your own revolution.

Title : Nigeria Jones
Author : Ibi Zoboi
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Balzer + Bray
Release Date : May 9, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated

Hollis’ unrated review

Here I am, once again, coming out of a read by Zoboi that I was so excited for.. and just not feeling any of that excitement by the end of it all. I think maybe, as much as I’m enthralled by the author, excited by what they are putting out in the world, it’s just maybe not meant to be for me.

I was lucky enough to attend an event and see Zoboi speak, and speak particularly about this book, and I was just star struck. I was so hooked by how they described this story, this journey, and how it related to them personally, and I was desperate to read it. So ending up here, with this result, is a bummer.

A lot of what Zoboi has done with this story is put the usual tropes of similar journeys on their head and flipped them. This isn’t the slow understanding of injustice and systemic racism and oppression. This is from the point of view of someone who has lived and breathed this knowledge since infancy. Equally, instead of being someone who has broken down barriers and been integrated into a predominantly white school system, Nigeria’s father is actively trying to keep her out of said school because it is, well, a system. And instead he wants to her remain homeschooled with the eventual goal of realizing the Movement, allowing for a curriculum, and a safe space, untouched by white society and structure.

My father doesn’t want to change the world; he wants to create his own world.

But not free of the patriarchy, as Nigeria soon comes to realize.

Despite how interesting all of this was, I found myself hard pressed to push through this book. Despite the sympathy and concern and, well, rage, I felt for Nigeria, I was at equal turns frustrated and put off by her, too. I don’t know if it was the rougher cut of the ARC or how she was meant to be read but she flipflopped a lot from one mentality to the next and maybe that’s understandable with how she was raised vs what she was experiencing but it was very inconsistent. Equally, with all this heaviness, I struggled to connect or at least enjoy the characters, any character, and I’m not sure I found a single one. Maybe KD? Or maybe she was the one I liked because she was easy to like. I don’t know.

I also wasn’t all that surprised by the ‘twist’, if we can call it that, and I just kept waiting for that shoe to drop.

I don’t know, I’m all mixed about this one. So I’m taking the easy way out and leaving this unrated. I am sad about this result but I’m hopeful this was just a case of wrong time for me to read this or maybe, again, I’m just not able to connect with the author’s words despite loving their concepts. So I definitely would not discourage you from picking this up, in fact it’s the opposite. I highly recommend you give this a go. Because frustration with Nigeria’s character and circumstance aside, it’s a whole new perspective on a similar story and I think it’s incredibly important.

[..] where do we draw a line between the harmful ideas our loved ones perpetuate and our own journeys to find meaning and truth in the world?

And hey maybe I wasn’t supposed to enjoy it, just learn from it. And I did. But I also like to enjoy my reads and sadly, as I didn’t, well, here we are.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

PUNCHING THE AIR by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam

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. Perfect 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, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. 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’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. 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. 

Title : Punching the Air
Author : Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Harper Collins Children’s Books
Release Date : September 1, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★

Micky’s 4 star review

This book made my heart hurt. A short story, told in verse, drawing on Yusef Salaam’s experiences and channeled into Amal, a young man wrongly convicted of a crime. Injustice and justice was on the menu here and the use of verse poignantly reverberated the message.

I am ink
He is paper…
I am criminal
He is victim
I am alive
He is almost dead
I am black
He is white

The narrative in this novel had a moment-to-moment feeling that was pretty tension ridden and I read much of it with that sense of doom and despair conveyed by Amal’s feelings. There were some areas of the book that I felt were particularly impactful – both sides defendant and perpetrator were the same age, yet one was referred to as a boy and the other a man. That point really hit me deep. There were many more examples but I don’t want to spoil.

All of this book is relevant for now, for 2020 and beyond, I am sure. It couldn’t be a better time to pick this up amongst your menu of BIPOC fiction and it would complement anyone’s plan to educate themselves more.

The illustrations/formatting didn’t come across particularly well on the ebook galley but I imagine the hard copy will convey the visual elements much better.

Please make sure to also check out some black reviewers on this book.

Thank you to Harper Collins Childrens for this early review copy.