f you’re like me, as you read this novel-in-verse, you can’t help but to think and feel empathetic for all the Black boys and teens who end up trapped in the system. Considering that Punching the Air is co-written and loosely inspired by true life experiences of Dr. Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five (formerly known as the Central Park Five), your heart will hurt even more. You think about all headlines of Black boys and teens trapped in the system and wonder about the ones you never hear about. The novel is also co-authored by Haitian-American writer Ibi Zoboi.
I loved the adorably awkward Norris Kaplan in Ben Philippe’s The Field Guide to the North American Teenager. The Haitian-Canadian teen is a fish out of water when he moves to Austin, Texas, with his mother. The poor boy is “The New Kid” in high school and is having trouble adjusting to the Texas heat and making friends. At least he’s found a hockey team for some semblance of home.
Charming As a Verb was such a cute little gem. This is the second YA novel written by Haitian writer Ben Philippe that I’ve read. As I said in my review for The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, “we’re not dealing with gang/street violence, teen pregnancy, [or] drugs. That’s not the only experience of Black teens.” Once again, Philippe writes about a high school teen boy on a quest to attain #BlackBoyJoy.
Growing up, I barely read books with black female teen protagonists (shout out to The Coldest Winter Ever and Flyy Girl), let alone novels with Haitian female leads. I didn’t read my first Haitian author and Haitian characters—Haitian female characters—until Edwidge Danticat’s Breath Eyes Memory. Thank you, Oprah, for making it a book club selection in 1998. I’ve been a fan of Danticat’s ever since. I knew of Roxane Gay, but I didn’t know she was Haitian until I read her memoir Hunger. If Gay mentioned it in Bad Feminist (which I did not finish because I’m, well, a bad feminist) I missed it. Last year, I read Ben Phillippe’s The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, which is about a Black French Canadian teen boy (with Haitian parents), who moves to Texas and teen angst ensues. Now to my short list of read Haitian writing I can add Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by sisters Maika and Maritza Moulite.