Tristan Strong is a young man who has been knocked down… literally in his first bout in the ring and most seriously, when an accident takes his closest friend from him. His parents think that the best thing for him is to get away, and Tristan is sent to stay with his grandparents on their farm in Alabama. Two things will attempt to help him through this time: his grandfather says that work is the cure, yet his grandmother believes tales of African-American folklore will give him the grounding he needs.
Tristan’s friend Eddie believed in the stories… and wrote them down in the journal that is given to Tristan after the funeral, but he is too scared to read it. Tristan’s therapist thinks there’s some value in opening the book and completing the stories. The stories of John Henry, Brer Rabbit, and Brer Fox. The lessons and the morals.
After a hard afternoon of fixing a fence at the farm, Tristan goes to bed and is woken up to find a doll stealing the journal. Gum Baby is there to take the book to land of Alke… to save the people and creatures and gods of the Midpass from an evil creeping over the land. And it only gets worse when Tristan races after the animated doll… he mistakenly disrupts the balance between the two worlds even more. What follows is a weaving of folklore come to life and a young man’s complex internal conflicts with grief and manhood.
Mbalia’s protagonist has a great and strong voice. Authentic and transparent. Like any teen, he wants to navigate the larger world on his own, and has been given advice that may be counter to what could really help him. He father says, “Strongs keep punching…” His grandfather tells to stay away from that writing, that all he needs is work…. He feels he has failed in so many ways in his life, as a son and a friend. This magical journey will make him face that internal struggle. Learning that he is an anansesem, a storyteller with great power that will provide him with the strength to endure.
Another winner for Rick Riordan’s imprint, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is a satisfying blend of action, storytelling, folk lore, and coming of age. Haints, folk heroes, gods, and an enemy made up of a disease of fear and iron. Mbalia’s worldbuilding is amazing. The most important lesson I got from this story is that stories and narratives control the power. He does a great job of providing the examples to fully flesh out this important theme. There’s also several twists that I did not see coming. I was kept on my toes!
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves the fantasy YA genre. It’s a tightly written action-fantasy with so much to offer.
5 out of 5 stars.
Thank you to NetGalley, Rick Riordan Presents, and the author for an advanced copy for review.