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 his diverse art school, because of a biased system he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated. Then, one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighbourhood 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?
Wow! Where to start? If you have read this book you will know! Probably the most powerful book I have read this year, absolutely absorbing and changed my opinion entirely on books written in verse. The story is as described in the description, the writing, all in verse offers a vivid depiction of the world of Amal in his unique words. Stark in its reflection of racism, that is both eye opening and familiar at once. Parts that shocked – the tattoo on the arm of a prison officer, showing his racist values whilst working in a position of power and care for young people, in an environment that is consistently over represented by people of colour – the prison, the juvenile detention centre. Other parts moved, the poetry teacher, who saw Amal, really saw him, the speaker she bought in who inspired. The friendships of Amal, his mother and the boy we saw who was so often invisible, the girl he liked and his care for his fellow prisoner.
HIghlighting things that have gone unnoticed by me as a white person – the ‘white’ art taught in schools and the lack of comprehension about why black youths disengage – when they are not represented. The pressure to comply and conform to the predisposed groups made and based on skin colour and how we all consistently struggle to see beyond this.
I read this book in a day. I hadn’t realised it was a Children’s book, but how I wish it could be added to the school curriculum – how much more informative it could be than the 13 power and conflict poems taught in GCSE English. How this book could turn on people to verse and inform and educate on race and inequality.
Modern, edgy, powerful, unique, all the words for this book which is so accessible that everyone should read it, it doesn’t take long and it is such an important use of time because put simply it is brilliant. Passing on to my son to read next.
About the Authors
Ibi Zoboi’s novel American Street was a National Book Award finalist in the US and a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of Pride and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, a New York Times bestseller. She is the editor of the anthology Black Enough. Born in Haiti and raised in New York City, she now lives in New Jersey with her husband and their three children. You can find her online at http://www.ibizoboi.net
Dr Yusef Salaam was just fifteen years old when his life was upended after being wrongly convicted with four other boys in the ‘Central Park jogger’ case. In 2002, after the young men spent years of their lives behind bars, their sentences were overturned. They are now known as the Exonerated Five. Their story has been documented in the award-winning film The Central Park Five by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon and in Ava DuVernay’s highly acclaimed series When They See Us, one of Netflix’s most watched original series of all time. Yusef is now a poet, activist and inspirational speaker. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama, among other honours. You can find him online at http://www.yusefspeaks.com
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