Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
Rick Riordan Presents, 2019, 496 pages
Trigger Warnings: death of a loved one, intense action sequences
About the Author: Kwame Mbalia is a part-time pharmaceutical calibration tech, part-time writer, and full-time dad. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is his debut novel. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he is working on another book about these characters.
“So it had been real, and not dream like I’d assumed? My mind reeled. First Gum Baby, now Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit. All of them from stories Eddie had collected, that Nana had told, that I’d read in some form or another growing up. And now I stood with the very same characters plucked straight out of a book.”
After his best friend Eddie passes away, seventh grade boxer Tristan Strong is sent to his grandparents’ farm in Alabama. Left only with Eddie’s journal, its pages filled with stories he used to write, Tristan struggles with his grief. Things take an unexpected—and rather magical—turn when Eddie’s journal begins to glow and is stolen by a strange creature. Fighting to get the last memory of his best friend back, Tristan accidentally punches a hole in his grandparents’ bottle tree, opening up an interdimensional portal to the mystical world of Alke. In a place filled with evil spirits, chain-like monsters, and a burning sea, Tristan meets African gods and Black American folk heroes the likes of John Henry and Brer Rabbit, all characters from Eddie’s journal and the tales his Nana used to tell. But those were just stories, right? Soon Tristan realizes that Alke is more real than he could have imagined—and in grave danger. With the help of his newfound friends, Tristan is on a quest to save Alke and return home before it’s too late. He just has to stop the end of the world first. Oh, and someone should really fix that hole in the sky.
When it comes to epic storytelling, Kwame Mbalia pulls no punches. Both a laugh-out-loud adventure and emotionally-gripping tale, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is middle-grade fantasy at its finest, filled with lush world-building and a full cast of captivating characters. Drawing inspiration from West African mythology and African American folk legends, Mbalia crafts a heart-pounding story that Anansi the Weaver would be jealous of. Tristan Strong also isn’t afraid to tackle difficult topics like grief, masculinity, and familial expectations while exploring the power of storytelling, memory, and friendship.
From the personal to the fantastical, there’s no doubt that Tristan’s struggles are many. But as his name suggests, with some inner strength and a little magic, there’s nothing he can’t handle.
Look out for Tristan Strong Destroys the World (Rick Riordan Presents), coming October 6, 2020!
PRR Writer, Hannah Miller
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