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Title: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (#1 Tristan Strong)
Author: Kwame Mbalia
Published: 22nd of September 2020 – Rick Riordan Presents
Format: Paperback – 528 pages
“It’s the spider’s web, an old African symbol for creativity and wisdom. It shows how tangled and complicated life can be. But with a little imaginative thinking, we can solve most of our problems and those of others.” – Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
Hello Hello! How are you?
I’m having a bit of a hectic week on top of feeling not great and being exhausted, so I’m taking advantage of that to finally publish some reviews that have been sitting in my drafts for weeks! I’m so glad that I am finally posting this review because Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia was a fantastic book that I read last year with the Middle Grade Marvels! Keep on reading for all my thoughts!
Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents Kwame Mbalia’s epic fantasy, a middle grade American Gods set in a richly-imagined world populated with African American folk heroes and West African gods.
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 notebook. 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 folk heroes 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 Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia is the first book in the Tristan Strong series, an amazing Middle Grade fantasy series inspired by African myths and storytelling.
We picked this book for the Middle Grade Marvels BOTM in December and it could not have been a better choice for me because I absolutely adore anything that revolves around myths, storytelling, has an action-packed plot, interesting and funny characters and most of all, magic and fantasy elements! This book was incredible and I’m so glad that Sammie from The Bookwyrm’s Den recommended and nominated it for us to read!
This book is first set in Alabama where Tristan has been shipped off by his parents to go spend the summer with his grandparents. Tristan’s best friend Eddie recently died in a school bus accident and Tristan is struggling with his grief and his guilt for not being able to save his friend. I was heartbroken while reading the parts where Tristan felt it was his fault.
Quickly though, the story takes a massive twist and Tristan ends up in the MidPass, which is also the place where all the gods and heroes live, that is, all the ones from stories he grew up hearing about. Tristan knows everyone’s stories thanks to his Nana who told them to him, but also because Eddie and he were obsessed with them and tried to collect them all in Eddie’s journal. Which is also the journal that Tristan now owns and tries to keep safe.
I loved the setting of this book. It was so well described and magical. The author did an absolutely fantastic job at world-building. I could picture every place so vividly. There were so many rich and beautiful places, but also ones that were scary and dark. This is a dream to read for people who love intricate world-building in their reads, so I was very happy.
It has been a while since I read this book and although I can picture all the characters the way that the author described them, I can only remember a few names, so I’m going to be a little vague here aha.
Tristan was an incredible character. I felt so sad for him because he is grieving and really struggling with his feelings about Eddie’s death and he lets his guilt get to him (which is understandable). I just wanted to jump into the book, hug him and tell him that everything would be fine. But I didn’t have to, because the people he meets along the way help him to understand that it wasn’t his fault.
This book is based on African myths and storytelling, so obviously, there are a lot of characters in this book that you may have heard stories about. I had heard of a few, but meeting all of them and especially through the author’s writing and Tristan’s POV was such a marvellous experience. I loved finding out their backstories and I thought that they all made such an incredible team.
I laughed out loud so many times at the things they did and said, so even though this book is more on the dark side and some very bad things happen, it is also kind of comforting when you concentrate on the characters and see how caring most of them are. They want to save the place they live and the people who live there, they do so with determination that never wavers. I loved all the characters (except for the bad guys of course).
Grief/survivor’s guilt: We meet Tristan at a time where he is struggling to cope with these feelings and grieving over his best friend’s death. We have all lost a love one, so it is a relatable theme, but at the minute, it might be a little raw for some, so maybe wait a while before picking this up because the depictions are quite detailed. However, I think it is such an important theme to have in books, especially for the younger readers as it is so hard to cope with such feelings as an adult, but much more as a child/young adult. I was heartbroken for Tristan, but I was so happy how he came to understand that he was not to blame and that Eddie was still there for him. The friendships he makes in this book help him so much and I was so grateful to each one of them.
Friendship/teamwork: You know I love some great friend dynamics in books and this one has some very unique ones. I think we can say that the characters are not friends at the start of the book, but as the story advances, they all come to know one another better through their backstory and experiences together in the present. I actually loved the relationship between Gum Baby and Tristan. Gum Baby was a character that I did not like at the start because she bugged me and I found her a little obnoxious, but as the story went on, they grew closer and I just loved their snarky dynamic.
Myths and storytelling: If there is something I like even more than a good fantasy, is a great fantasy WITH myths and storytelling. Chuck me a book with that theme and I’ll read it that instant and not stop until I’ve finished it. This book has such a rich and detailed amount of stories, myths, legendary characters (heroes and gods), this was just perfect for me. I don’t want to say anything to spoil you as it’s best just launching into this one without knowing, but I adored learning more about Anansi, Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, John Henry, and so many others!
Trigger Warnings: child death, grief, death of a loved one, violence/war.
MY THOUGHTS AND RATING
Overall, I absolutely adored this book and can find nothing to fault it. I had fun, I laughed, I had all the feels and I was so immersed from the minute I started reading to the turn of the last page.
The writing style was intelligent, it wasn’t too hard for the age range it is directed at and I found it flowed nicely. You can definitely feel the author’s personality through his world and characters, it was a very special kind of book because it felt like nothing I had ever read before. I thought the pacing was also really balanced and I have to give this book a bonus point for its originality.
I gave this book 5 stars, you can find my full ASPECTS rating below. I loved it, it was amazing and I will be reading the next book as soon as it is published in paperback format (I have book 1 in paperback and it would bug me to not have the series match up). I highly, highly recommend this book to readers of all ages, starting around 9 or 10. If you love middle grade books, stories about stories, complex and believable characters, witty prose and a unique plot based on myths and the gods/heroes of those legends, then this is the book for you!
That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading this post, see you soon, stay safe,
Atmosphere – 8.5
Start – 8
Pacing – 8
Ending – 9
Characters – 8
Theme – 8.5
Style – 9
Total = 59
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