Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
Fiction / Fantasy / Elementary / Middle School
Rick Riordan Presents
October 15, 2019
Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents Kwame Mbalia's epic fantasy, a middle grade American Gods set in a richly-imagined world populated with African American folk heroes and West African gods. Seventh grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he's going to spend on his grandparents' farm in Alabama, where he's being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie's notebook. Tristan chases after it--is that a doll?--and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature's hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?
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)
Copyright 2020 Africa Access
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, is a book by Kwame Mbalia and is the first book out of the Tristan Strong trilogy. Seventh grader Tristan Strong finds himself in a heartbreaking situation when his best friend Eddie, dies in a bus crash leaving only his diary behind. Then a doll(Gum baby) jumps into his room to steal Eddie’s diary and Tristan chases it only to find himself in a world where African Mythology is real. Teaching us about characters like Brer Rabbit, John Henry, High John, Gum Baby, and Nyame. This book gripped me till the end and made me jump to read the next books in the series. Mbalia does a great job in making the plot and characters feel real and exciting. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in fantasy, mythology, and fiction books. This book also teaches you a lot about African Mythology and pulls you into a world that you might have never known existed.