Book Review

Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The Sky

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

  • Author: Kwame Mbalia
  • Genre: MG Fantasy
  • Publication Date: October 15, 2019
  • Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
  • Series: Tristan Strong #1

CONTENT WARNING: grief, brief mention of slavery

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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.

On his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan chases it — is that a doll? — through the forest, and a tug-of-war ensues by his grandmother’s mysterious and off-limits Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping a hole in the sky above MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this strange world. 

Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left Black American gods 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?

This book came really highly suggested, and I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but just LOOK AT IT! How the heck could I possible resist a book with a cover that’s this pretty?

Ok, now that I’m done gushing over the cover, let’s get into the content of the book. It’s definitely got a Rick Riordan feel to it — Tristan is a smart, witty character who isn’t shy about unleashing his sass. But this book has a couple of twists: first of all, Tristan is dealing with some grief after the death of his best friend. More interestingly, the story makes use of African and African-American mythology and folklore/history, which is rarely seen in any fantasy, but even less in MG. 

I loved Tristan’s character. He’s complex, but this is what makes him so relatable. While he’s got a lot on his plate, his family tries to be supportive as best they can. They do their best to get him engaged in the family legacy sport of boxing, which doesn’t seem to be as whole-hearted about as they want him to be. And I think one of the things that I appreciated the most is the way that Tristan is allowed to experience his feelings and express them. His parents have even found him a therapist to help him learn how to process his grief in a healthy way, which seems to be helping him. But one of the things that he’s struggling with is the idea of living up to what others want him to be:

“Let them readjust their plans. I was tired of trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations.”

The fantasy elements were so intriguing and unique, and while I was familiar with some elements of the myths and stories, others were completely new to me. It felt like a completely fresh take in a genre that is often repetitive, and it’s incredibly impressive from a debut author. There’s a wild mix of African mythology, elements of slavery, and African-American folklore and oral history that meshes beautifully, although some aspects of the story are a bit dark. 

“Everybody wears life’s scars a little differently, I supposed.”

At times, the story was a bit slow-moving, but I attributed it to the immense amount of world-building involved in developing Tristan’s character, background, and the fantasy world that he found himself immersed in. It never felt overdone, and the author avoided info dumps, so it was easy to follow. I do wish that I had gotten to know more about Ayanna’s character a little more, but this is a series, so I’m hoping that she plays a bigger role in a future book. Which I’ll definitely be reading!

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 8

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