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CASA book club covers ‘Punching the Air’ YA novel, features guest speaker

Staff and volunteers of CHD’s Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) recently read and discussed instant New York Times bestseller Punching the Air during their monthly book club, which takes place virtually.

Meeting each month since the spring of 2020, the book club focuses on texts that center on and help inform the program’s advocacy for those they serve, with reading and discussions on topics such as permanency, trauma, abuse, gender identity and social inequity.

Co-authored by award winning novelist Ibi Zoboi and Exonerated Five member and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam, Punching the Air tells the story of 16-year-old Amal Shahid after he has been wrongfully incarcerated.

With moments inspired by Salaam’s firsthand experiences in his own wrongful conviction, the novel follows Amal through his trial and time in a juvenile detention facility. A budding artist and poet, Amal tells his story through powerful verse and images and uses those as tools to find resilience and hope and maintain purpose in the face of despair and injustice.

The virtual discussion also featured Hernan Carvente-Martinez as a guest speaker, who shared insight from his own experience with the justice system and how it’s informed his advocacy work today.

During his talk, Carvente-Martinez shared anecdotes from his experience and how the challenges he faced, and one special mentor, led him to his current work advocating for holistic community-based and trauma-informed programs for young people as alternatives to youth incarceration. He also discussed the difficulties many face when transitioning out of prison and into the community.

“I’m at a point in my life and my career now where I reflect back on my prison experience, on all the violence I witnessed there—all the riots, all the stress I had from not seeing my family, having to write letters to people to maintain a hint of connection—and how all of that, in one way or another, shaped my view of the world and the way I do advocacy now,” Carvente-Martinez said.

Carvente-Martinez is the Founder & CEO of Healing Ninjas, a health and wellness company that uses technology to build and deepen community between individuals who are seeking to master the art of healing on their respective journeys. Inspired by Carvente-Martinez’s own goal of empowering others along their healing journey, Healing Ninjas provides user-friendly content, resources and tools to help individuals normalize healing in their daily lives.

He is also the National Youth Partnership Strategist at the Youth First Initiative, a national campaign focused on reinvesting funds from youth prisons into community alternatives. He is an advisor to the Credible Messenger Justice Center, serves on the board of Community Connection for Youth, and is a grant-making committee member for the New Youth Program of the Prospect Hill Foundation.

When telling his story, Carvente-Martinez also shared how the influence of one dedicated mentor has continued to inform his advocacy and the way he connects with youth today.


“Being able to connect with young people is more about being real with them. They connect to the realness.”

Hernan Carvente-Martinez
Founder & CEO, Healing Ninjas


“Being able to connect with young people is more about being real with them,” Carvente-Martinez explained. “They connect to the realness. What young people always say is ‘real recognize real,’ and I’ve learned that there has been power in the authentic level of sharing that I’ve done. There’s power in sharing, but there also needs to be intentionality in how you take care of yourself after you share.”

Through a generous donation from HarperCollins Publishers, CHD was recently able to share copies of Punching the Air with programs serving young members of the community. This donation was made possible by High Five Books, an independent community bookseller for young people in Florence, MA, who, upon participating in a give-back initiative with HarperCollins, connected CHD with the publisher.


Learn more about Punching the Air.