Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
Tristan is a teen stuck in a hard spot. His best friend Eddie died in a terrible bus accident that he also experienced. He’s not doing well in his boxing matches, a sport his whole family is obsessed with. And now he’s traveling south for the summer, from Chicago to a farm in Alabama to stay with his grandparents.
Everything changes when he experiences a bit of magic coming from Eddie’s old journal. At first he thinks he’s dreaming but eventually he is drawn into another realm by a sneaky doll who tries to steal the journal. This new realm is a strange world with even stranger characters. Some of them Tristan immediately recognizes from African and African American folktales he grew up hearing from his grandmother. They are iconic- Gum Baby, Brer Rabbit, John Henry, Abiyoyo and Anansi the weaver. There’s a huge misunderstanding about how he got into this world, called MidPass, and Tristan is forced to prove himself and fight for what he wants and his way back home.
This book is action packed from beginning to end. There are escapes from iron monsters, arguments with giant animals, travels through scary seas and forests, and challenges with ghosts and gods. The characters are well developed and the reader becomes attached to them alongside Tristan as his journey takes place. The story, based in a completely new fantasy world, is embedded with West African and African American mythology and truths. During Tristan’s journey through MidPass, he constantly refers back to things he learned from his grandparents, parents, friends and teachers about African American history from West Africa, to slavery, to freedom. The map, Adinkra symbols, and folklore in the book make it feel like an old world, Tristan’s modern teen voice keeps it in the present, and the mythical creatures and fantasy scenes propel the story into the future. It is a beautiful metaphor for adolescence (not a child and yet not an adult) and the legacy of the African diaspora. Highly Recommended
Anastasia Shown, MSW Lecturer, School of Social Policy & Practice University of Pennsylvania
Published in Africa Access Review (May 27, 2020)
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