Book Review

Tristan Strong Destroys The World

Tristan Strong Destroys the World

  • Author: Kwame Mbalia
  • Genre: MG Fantasy
  • Publication Date: October 6, 2020
  • Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
  • Series: Tristan Strong #2

CONTENT WARNING: violence, trauma, mention of death

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Tristan Strong has been traumatized. He’s back in Alabama after saving Alke—a world inhabited by African American folktale heroes and West African gods—from iron monsters unleashed by an ancient evil. Horrific scenes of danger and destruction haunt both his dreams and his waking hours. One day, when he’s supposed to be concentrating on a boxing match in his grandparents’ barn, Tristan’s nightmares come to life: Spirits appear to warn him that the Shamble Man is coming to the Strong family farm. 

Who is the Shamble Man, and what does he want? Tristan finds out soon enough when the fearsome creature wreaks havoc on the farm and steals his beloved grandmother. To rescue Nana, Tristan must return to Alke and track down her abductor. But how is Tristan supposed to succeed when the only god he can summon to his side is Anansi the trickster, who is imprisoned inside a cell phone? To make matters worse, ever since Nana was taken, Tristan’s powers as the Anansesem, the carrier and spreader of stories, seem to have disappeared along with her.

New allies emerge from unexpected places to help Tristan do what Strongs do best: get back up. But it still may not be enough to keep everything from unraveling in this powerful sequel to Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky.

I’m not sure if I can adequately find the right words to express how much I loved this book. Tristan is back in a new book, for another adventure with even higher stakes. The narrational style that Tristan uses is a laid-back and conversational tone, with no shortage of snark and sarcasm, although Tristan isn’t afraid to talk about his feelings. I truly appreciate that, and love that there are books showing young people, especially boys, that it’s okay to show your feelings.

This story not only picks up where it left off with the African and African American mythology and legends, it also further expands on them. Even the villains are related to Black history, featuring characters derived and depicting the evils of slavery. There’s even more of a focus on how these stories link Black Diaspora populations together, and I loved how it emphasized the interconnectedness of all of these groups. There’s characteristics associated with Diaspora populations, and this story highlights so many of those: hope, strength, power, resilience, and determination.

“The stories in each quilt square were unique, representing different places and experiences. The Diaspora. But when they were collected like this, they came together to make a beautiful artifact we all could appreciate.”

It wasn’t a stretch to get me to love the characters in this story. So many of them were already favorites of mine from book 1 — Tristan, Ayanna, Gum Baby (even if she does kind of remind me of a sassy little sister), and so many others. But there’s also some new ones, and I also got to see new facets of characters that we didn’t really get to see as much of, like Anansi. Mbalia has a true talent for developing a variety of characters and making them all feel so well-rounded and realistic. This story also has the incredible task of bringing folk heroes to life, and they’re done in such a beautiful way. 

This is a story that is published on Rick Riordan’s imprint. While it is most certainly an OwnVoices book that is told in a way that feels incredibly genuine and honors the strong, difficult, and often painful journey of Africans and African-Americans, it is also clearly the kind of book that fits with Rick Riordan’s imprint. The characters are hilarious, and it embodies that underdog spirit that I love to read and root for. This was the line that really stuck out to me the most, and I love that it’s highlighted here:

“No story is perfect for everyone, but everyone can find the perfect story when they need it most.” 

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: 11

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