Book: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong 1) by Kwame Mbalia
Release Date: October 15th 2019
Tags: Fantasy / Middle Grade / African Folklore / African Legends / African-American History / Gods / Anansi / John Henry / High Henry / Grief / Survivors Guilt
Trigger/Content Warnings: Slavery / Violence / Death
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 journal. 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 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?
Tristan Strong was my most anticipated middle grade read for 2019 and of course that meant I put it off. I shouldn’t have. It was great. I ended up reading it withSammieand Leelynn. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with me and discussing the book.
This is a really important book for African(-American) youths because it stands strong amidst the themes of slavery within the African (-American) folklore and legends. I think Leelyn talks about this theme better in her review than I as a white European ever could. It is important to remember how our history impacted others. And especially for these youths it is a history where a lot of things even in recent things are still based on, like racism.
Tristan Strong not only punched a hole in the sky but managed to nestle his way into my heart. He is a strong young man but has such a heavy weight on his shoulders. I think the author dealt with the themes of his grief and survivor’s guilt really well throughout the book. It was realistic. I felt it.
Even more so I felt very strongly about the adults surrounding Tristan. His grandfather for instance is one I would have loved to have a good talking too. After Tristan just having lost his friend he is more worried about his grandson having lost his first fight rather than his grandson’s wellbeing. And some of the gods blaming it all on Tristan Strong with that whole hole in the sky thing did not sit well with me. Another easy way to shift the blame, boo.
Tristan does find his way though, and despite being a reluctant hero, ends up being a great asset in the fight. He has a great character arc and character growth in this book where you just want to cheer him up.
The whole world of Alke is rich. I only truly knew about Anansi (and only from American Gods by Neil Gaiman) so it was great to see him appear in a book that is full with African folklore.
I do think that for a middle grade the book is a bit lengthy and that it might put off some kids from reading it. I really hope it doesn’t because everyone should be reading this one.