Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalai is a juvenile fiction book, steeped in myth and folklore, probably best for 5-7th graders.
“Strong’s keep punching.” Is the family motto of the Strong family and seventh grader, Tristian Strong, feels like doing anything but punching after he losing his first boxing match, while dealing with the death of his best friend, Eddie. In the hopes of “getting his mind off of things,” Tristan is sent to live with his grandparents for the summer, working in the fields and getting away from any reminders of Eddie.
All Tristan has left of Eddie is a beaten up journal where he wrote down old stories. On his first night in Alabama, a sticky little doll sneaks into Tristan’s room and snatches to doll. When Eddie chases the creature down, he and it let loose an evil spirit and they all fall into another world–Midpass.
Burning seas, bone ships, mechanical monsters and more greet him, along with black American gods like John Henry and Brer Rabbit. In order to get home Tristan must ally with these gods and save Midpass, but what can one lost teenager do?
I enjoyed this book a lot and I think it will have a lot of appeal to fantasy fans of myth and legend. The book gives you glimpses into folklore and myth from West Africa and these samples make you want to go out and learn more about the original tales.
Although Tristan is a great character and will be relatable to many, I think the side characters really shine in this book. Gum Baby, John Henry, High John and the others were so fun to read. I loved “seeing” glimpses of them throughout the story and hope the come in to play more in the next book.
It’s hard to believe that this is a debut book for Mbalai because it has memorable characters, a storyline that pulls you in and some pretty good worldbuilding. Overall, I think this will be a great read for kids who are looking for something similar to the Riordan books but with a new feel. This one gets 4.5 stars from me.
That’s all for now!