Friday, December 4, 2020

Freeform Friday: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky - Kwame Mbalia

Summary: 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? (summary and image from

My Review: Okay, first off, I have to state that one of my biggest weaknesses is that I love stories that talk about the importance and power of stories: how they can heal, how they can help you survive, how they are so vital.  It always gets me.  So this book hit all those notes, as it is full of folklore and the act of stories and storytellers saving the day.

Tristan is a cool kid, and he's a well-rounded character too.  He doubts himself, he can get angry really quick, he cares for others.  He's also a typical seventh grader just trying to make it day by day, especially after the death of his best friend, and how he felt he failed him.  That's a lot of weight for a kid.

The folkloric characters Tristan meets in MidPass are great.  Some I'd heard of, like John Henry, Brer Rabbit, and Anansi, while others I hadn't, like the character of High John and Gum Baby among others.  And,oh boy, Gum Baby was hilarious.  Her jabs and jives and sticky attitude were always a high spot in a tale that was full of danger and deceit, keeping a light filter where it could easily get really dark.

The adventure scenes are so fun, and I just felt for poor Tristan as he is thrust into one danger after another, completely confused and having to totally wing it, but with each trial, you start to see him start to come into his own as an Anansesem, a storyteller, and using that gift to help his friends and help the whole world of Alke overcome a creepy darkness that is devouring their world.  And he does it through the power of stories.

(Also, I'd like to give kudos to Rick Riordan for using his platform to highlight these stories and get them out into the world.  I've already read a handful in this 'Rick Riordan Presents' series, all by different authors whose stories are able to reach a wider market.  It's awesome to read stories about cultures by the people who live in those cultures.)

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Tristan is thrown into plenty of danger, and characters are constantly in peril, and some die. 

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