Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1)
Tristan Strong just lost his best friend. His best friend, Eddie, was the peanut butter to his jelly. Eddie's journal is all that remains of their friendship. The journal is a leather-bound book of stories, told by Eddie and Tristan’s grandmother, respectively. Tristan takes the journal with him to Alabama; where he’s sent to stay with his grandparents, to heal from the loss. While there, he encounters a sticky doll and a bottle tree. (Don’t tell Gum baby I called her a doll.) Gum Baby sneaks into Tristan's room and steals Eddie's journal. In pursuit of the doll who stole his best friend’s journal, Tristan knocks into the bottle tree—ripping a hole between his world and the Mid-pass. As a result, he lets loose a long-contained spirit.
Tristan falls into a chasm with the loud-mouthed sticky creature and finds himself in a world where haunted ships and African gods exist.
I can’t tell you all how good this book is, at least not properly, or eloquently enough. I opened the book and Tristan grabbed me by the throat, threw me and Gum Baby into his hoodie, and did not let me go until the very last page. It was unputdownable.
I rarely find books unputdownable, but I did not want to put this book down. Rich in history, contemporary language, and a teachable juxtaposition between today’s African American and yesterday’s African lay a beautiful story, worthy of being passed down; not unlike the folklores told in the story.
Tristan’s relatability, his touchable grief, and his insecurities will reach readers young and old, but specifically the youth. This book is perfectly suited for its audience and even beyond. In the story, readers are introduced to a cast of characters they won’t soon forget. Though Anaya, our witty guide, among other small but vital characters weren’t as fleshed out, I didn’t find the story lacking. With a series, there should be some expectation of “left-out details.” Later books expound on the smaller details. Hashing everything out, in the beginning, leaves little to be desired later in the series. Book one gave enough backstory to hook the reader and keep the reader.
The world is like a multi-layered onion. The descriptions made the world leap off the page in frightening real and otherworldly detail. The descriptions of the gods, the villains, the physical spaces/lands, and the characters in all their uniqueness were one of the book’s shining spots. It brought life and color to the words making the story that much more lively and enjoyable.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is the book this generation's black youth needs. It shows them as heroes, gods, and heroines. It teaches Black history in a fun and approachable way. It is a beautiful piece of literature that will itself a "forever home" on any book lover's bookshelf. An outstanding and unforgettable debut. I want more, and more, and more.
TRISTAN STRONG PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE SKY is one of the most important and needed stories published this decade. Truly, I think all of the Rick Riordan Presents books so far are worthy of that sentiment. Kwame Mbalia shines in a story that balances hope and history, epic figures and human fault, and the weight of a flawed world with the lightness of a perfectly timed joke. This book does not shy away from America's horrific history and presents it in a way that middle grade readers will find accessible.
As is part of the Rick Riordan Presents signature, the humor in TRISTAN STRONG is utter perfection. I personally enjoyed Gum Baby's entire character so much and laughed out loud, nearly to the point of tears, because of her dialogue on multiple occasions. This humor is part of what makes TRISTAN STRONG so great for young readers. Even when the world is on the verge of collapse, TRISTAN STRONG reminds you that humor, friendship, family (biological or found), and courage can go a long way.
With TRISTAN STRONG PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE SKY, Kwame Mbalia has gone straight to my auto-buy authors list. Classrooms, libraries, and homes would be sorely lacking without this epic middle grade fantasy in their collection.