Series: Tristan Strong #1
Published by Rick Riordan Presents on October 15, 2019
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Source: NetGalley, Blog Tour
Cover Artist: Eric Wilkerson
My content rating: MG (Deals with themes of death & slavery---but not directly; Some violence)
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?
This book is absolutely packed with rich storytelling—both African and African American folklore that many middle graders have probably never encountered before. It’s difficult to even unpack how many different stories are rolled into this adventure and brought to life in a new way. (I’d actually love it if Rick Riordan Presents would do a companion that goes deeper into each individual tale, sort of like the Greek Gods companions that were done for the Percy Jackson Series). This book would be perfect to use in a classroom setting because I believe it will inspire kids to want to learn more about the folklore and mythology behind characters like Nyami, Brer Rabbit, John Henry, High John and Gum Baby.
Tristan Strong is just getting over the sting of his first boxing match—and his first defeat. He feels like he’s let the adults in his life (who all have high expectations of him—especially his grandfather) down. But, more than that, he’s trying to pull himself out of the depression and guilt that has surrounded him since his best friend’s death. When he goes to visit his grandparents farm in rural Alabama, the Chicago city-boy feels like a fish out of water. When his best friend’s journal is stolen by Gum Baby and Tristan ends up in a magical land filled with folk heroes, he feels like a fish in the desert!!
This book is beautifully-written, and it’s filled with a fabulous mixture of adventure and heart. Not only does Tristan have to defeat the monsters he’s unleashed on the folkloric world, but he also has to come to terms with his sadness and guilt over the loss of his friend—no small task. The story weaves the folk characters and gods in seamlessly and also brings in themes of slavery without being overly bleak or obvious about it (the symbolism of the villain in the story is beautiful as is the theme of stories that must be told, even when they’re difficult and we’d rather forget them). Once again, I feel like these themes could be explored even more in a classroom setting.
The book is long for a middle grade novel (especially a first book in a series—it seems like often those first books are shorter and then they get thicker as the series progresses), but there’s a lot to pack into this story. And while there is a very slight lull in the book when Tristan first gets to the mysterious folklore land, everything is tied together handily and it all becomes apparent why certain things happened early on in the end!
Magical and filled to the brim with folklore, this first book in the Tristan Strong Series certainly packs a punch!
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley and FFBC blog tours in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author
Kwame is a husband, father, writer, and pharmaceutical metrologist in that order. His debut middle-grade novel, TRISTAN STRONG PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE SKY (October 15, 2019) is published by Rick Riordan Presents/Disney-Hyperion. A Howard University graduate and a Midwesterner now in North Carolina, he enjoys impromptu dance sessions and Cheezits.
3 winners will receive a finished copy of TRISTAN STRONG PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE SKY, US Only.