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Tristan Strong #1

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

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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?

496 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 15, 2019

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Kwame Mbalia

16 books790 followers

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5 stars
3,784 (42%)
4 stars
3,408 (38%)
3 stars
1,322 (14%)
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242 (2%)
1 star
74 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,771 reviews
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 321 books399k followers
September 2, 2019
Don’t get me wrong. Greek myths are great! But you can’t swing a gorgon’s head in any bookstore without hitting at least a dozen Greek-myth-inspired books.

Try finding great adventures based on Western African gods and heroes like Nyame or Anansi. Try finding stories about modern kids who encounter African-American folk legends like High John, John Henry and Brer Rabbit. Those books are a lot harder to locate, despite that fact that millions of kids would relate to those gods and heroes even more than they would to Hercules and Perseus (sorry, my Greek dudes).

Can you imagine what it would be like if you could find a book that wove the whole brilliant, beautiful tapestry of West African and African-American legend into one magical world? A world that made young African-American readers think, YES! THIS IS MY AWESOME MYTHOLOGY. THIS IS MY MAGIC WORLD TO EXPLORE, AND THESE HEROIC KIDS ARE JUST LIKE ME! A book that left all readers thinking, WOW. WHY DIDN’T I KNOW ABOUT THESE AMAZING STORIES SOONER?
Kwame Mbalia has written that book. You are about to discover TRISTAN STRONG PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE SKY, and your world will never be the same.

I won’t even try to describe all the incredible adventures facing Tristan Strong in this debut novel. That would spoil the fun! But when Tristan accidentally punches a hole through our world into the sky of the Midpass, the world of African-American legends, he starts on the most epic of quests. Awaiting him are malicious haints, iron monsters, bone ships, flying rafts, burning seas, talking animals, ancient gods, and more.

But for all its great fantasy elements, what I love most about this book is its human side. Tristan is struggling with grief after the death of his best friend. He has just lost his first fighting bout, disappointing his father and grandfather’s hopes for him carrying on the family legacy. Sentenced to a summer at the grandparents’ farm in rural Alabama, this Chicago city kid is struggling to figure out who he wants to be, and whether his parents (and society) will let him be that person. Tristan is tough but tender, smart but cautious, courageous but insecure. He is someone every kid will relate to, and you will immediately want to be his friend.

I’ll tell you a secret. I cried while reading this book. Several times, I just got overwhelmed with happiness, thinking about what this book would have meant to many of my students back when I taught middle school. I was delighted to see old friends like Brer Fox, John Henry and Gum Baby in such a fresh, modern, page-turning adventure. I felt grateful to Kwame Mbalia for writing this book so that new generations of young readers could grown up with Tristan Strong and get to know the rich stories of West Africa and the African Diaspora. In a lifetime full of highlights, I have to say that helping to publish this book is right up there at the top!

I know you will enjoy TRISTAN STRONG. I envy you reading this book for the first time. As for Tristan’s further adventures, the sky’s the limit. Wait, no. Tristan punched a hole in the sky. There ARE no limits.
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,471 reviews9,380 followers
March 23, 2023
**4.5-stars rounded up**

This a debut!? Really!? I need a moment to wrap my mind around that...

This is a hella ambitious first novel. I am really dang impressed.

Kwame Mbalia, you should be proud! With the initial swooning out of the way, let's get into the review, shall we?

Tristan Strong, a 7th-grader from Chicago, has been having a real tough time recently. After losing his best friend, Eddie, in a horrific bus crash, Tristan is struggling with his grief and feels like no one understands him.

His parents decide to send him to stay with his Grandparents in rural-Alabama for a month. They are hoping that the time away from home will help aid with his recovery.

Initially, Tristan's not super crazy about the idea. Nonetheless, he heads off, willing to try if it will help. One of the items he decides to bring along with him is Eddie's journal.

On his first night in Alabama, the most bizarre thing happens. Some sort of little doll baby, with a nasty attitude, steals Eddie's journal and takes off with it.

Tristan gives chase. It's all he has left of his best friend. He needs to get it back.

He follows the doll baby into some creepy woods, around a mysterious and legendary bottle tree.

As he is wrestling to retrieve the journal, he inadvertently punches a hole in the fabric of the universe, opening up a portal to another world, known as MidPass.

This is where things get really crazy. I can't even go on to describe all that happens next, you will just have to read for yourself.

This story is full of action, African folklore, mythology, African-American history and a boy finding the hero within himself.

I was so impressed with the quality of Mbalia's writing. It is extremely detailed, laugh out loud funny and completely engaging.

You may wonder why I decided to give this 4.5-stars, versus a full 5-stars, especially after all of the swooning. Basically, it boils down to the scope.

I think the book was a little too long for my taste. I sort of feel like this story could have been broken into two books.

There were moments as well, where so much was going on that I felt confused.

However, with that being said, that is such a minor thing and totally personal preference. This is a fantastic and important story. I urge everyone to pick it up!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I greatly appreciate it.

Kwame Mbalia is a gift to the world and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next!
Profile Image for The Artisan Geek.
445 reviews7,227 followers
July 23, 2020
------------------VIDEO REVIEW------------------

FINISHED! What a story, I laughed and I cried, but I mainly laughed! So fun to read a book about African gods!! :D My review will be up next week!! ;)

A HUGE thank you to Disney Hyperion for gifting me a copy of this book! #Blessed

Did I hear that correctly? Black American Gods??? My gosh this book sounds so good!! I can't wait!

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Profile Image for J  (Midnight Book Blog).
146 reviews543 followers
September 7, 2020
Somehow, this book had me laughing, crying, and screaming “WHOA, plot twist” at my family.

I very much underestimated this book. I think because it’s technically a middle-grade read, I was expecting it to be slow, easy, and predictable. Let me tell you, it was none of the above. I’m not even sure where to begin here, so let’s just go with the characters. Tristan is the most developed protagonist I have read about in a long while. I loved that he wasn’t sure of himself in every step of his quest, unlike so many heroes. I found myself thinking of a quotation from Coraline while reading his story: “When you’re scared but still do it anyway, that’s brave.” Tristan Strong is definitely brave.

I was slightly disappointed with Ayanna, but that’s being very picky. I just have a feeling she is going to be set up to be the Annabeth to Tristan’s Percy, so to speak, and I don’t feel we got to know her well. On the other hand, Gum Baby is the most hilarious character I think I have ever encountered. I have about a million highlights in this book, and her dialogue is half of them.

Above all else, I loved the message, and it is one I feel particularly important to remember in these times. This book is full of beautiful (and heartbreaking) African Mythology, and a lot of it is rooted in the stories of slaves. What Tristan tells us is clear: we need to tell the stories of the past, with all of the pain, and all of the joy. When we begin to rewrite stories, as so many of our history books have tried to, we cause nothing but harm. Tristan said it best, so I will leave you with a final quotation, and my insistence that EVERYONE READS THIS BOOK.

“As Anansesem, it was my job to carry the stories of the land to its people. All the stories. If we ignored the past, how would we learn from it?”

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 4.5/5 (rounded up)
Pace: Fast
Intended audience: Middle Grade (but all ages should read this book)
Content warnings: mentions of slavery

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Profile Image for Marc *Dark Reader of the Woods*.
770 reviews124 followers
August 3, 2021
UPDATE: It looks like the author is finally getting his own copyright, with Last Gate of the Emperor soon to be released. The cover look awesome and the story sounds great; I am all in for the MC's bionic lioness.
UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Nope, his new book is also from Cake Literary; although its co-author (the great-grandson of the last emperor of Ethiopia) gets shared copyright with Cake, none for Kwame!


It's a pretty good middle-grade book, with absolutely fantastic cover art, I mean just look at that thing. I am not in the target demographic, so take my comments as you will. I am at least superficially familiar with some of the myths and characters informing this story, with my earliest exposure being the controversial Disney film (aren't they all?) Song of the South, which was never released on home video in the U.S., but since I didn't live there I had access to it.

I would have preferred to spend more time with Tristan and his family to build his character before launching into his fantastic Mid-world adventure, but the character eventually emerges through his heroic struggles. Gum Baby was fun and somewhat endearing, although I fear that she veered into caricature at times. Tristan exclaims "Sweet Peaches!" altogether too often. But, the action was well-paced, the characters were balanced, and the writing quality was certainly better than Rick Riordan's early books (a comparison that I make because this is a DISNEY HYPERION RICK RIORDAN PRESENTS title).

But there's something else we need to talk about.

I read the copyright page (also the dedication and acknowledgments), because I do, okay? And doing so here, I read the following:

Copyright (c) 2019 Cake Literary

Me: ???

Not copyright (c) Kwame Mbalia. Cake Literary. What the heck is Cake Literary?

I google it, I read, and I fall down a rabbit hole about "book packagers" and the publishing industry and am left with all kinds of questions about authorship and the creative process and authenticity and who exactly is reponsible for what in this book.

Basically, Cake Literary is a business that develops ideas for books, sells an idea or some kind of partial product to a publisher, and THEN hires an author to write the actual book. The author gets paid a flat fee. The author gets no royalties, so doesn't see any extra cash, no matter if the book sells 12 copies or 12,000,000 copies. If the book is made into a worldwide box-office smash movie, Kwame Mbalia gets NOTHING as far as I can gauge. Who knows what his contract says about sequels; he might get paid decently to write them but I doubt that he willl suddenly be cut into the royalties.

So, the good people at Cake Literary (and yes they appear to be good people, the company is focused on encouraging diversity in publishing) think, hmm, how can we make money while bringing diverse voices to the masses? Oh look, DISNEY HYPERION RICK RIORDAN PRESENTS is looking for book series for young readers based on different world mythologies because the formula worked so well for Rick Riordan working with the Disney marketing machine to bring in the moolah, what can we bring to them? Greek's been done, Egyptian's been done, Indian's been done... Hey, no one has done African/American folk mythology yet, have they? Let's sketch something out and approach them. Something about John Henry and those Brer animals and Anansi, and how about that Tar Baby? Yikes, we can't call it that, that is way too loaded a term. How about Gum Baby? Sounds better. Okay, let's go give our pitch. Success! DISNEY HYPERION RICK RIORDAN PRESENTS bought our idea! Now let's audition unpublished writers and pick someone to work with to do all the ground-level writing work. They get a terrific opportunity to get published and get their name on a book that will benefit from Disney marketing and distribution and all the exposure that entails, and they get paid to write the book but not nearly enough to quit their day job, what struggling passionate diverse unpublished author wouldn't jump at the chance! But, we have to make sure that they are appropriately diverse for this book. This guy writes very well and knows the mythology that we're drawing on here very well, but his name is Todd Whitmore and that just won't mesh. How about this other guy? He also writes very well but sounds more authentic. Let's bring him in for a full audition.

Yeah, I'm a little cynical, deal with it. The whole thing begs questions. Who thought up Tristan Strong? Who decided he would be a novice boxer whose best friend died tragically? How about Gum Baby? What challenges will Tristan face? What percentage of ideas are the author's versus the book packager's? I just don't know!!

This is not the process that most people probably imagine when thinking of how a book is written, but apparently it happens frequently in certain genres, particularly YA. (Traditionally is it more common with non-fiction books that require a lot of work on graphics and layout). Since the whole book packaging process starts with "what will sell", the creative experience is cheapened, in my opinion. Now, the end result may be a net benefit in this case, with more readers seeing characters like themselves in popular media and giving everyone exposure to broader cultural foundations, and providing name recognition to some talented authors who might otherwise never gain exposure. But no one should delude themselves into thinking that DISNEY HYPERION RICK RIORDAN PRESENTS is scouring the globe looking for new talent to bring racial and cultural harmony to the world. They don't have to, because they have created the throne upon which they merely have to sit and let supplicants come to them, doing all the creative work while they sit back, write a supportive foreword, and reap the financial and goodwill benefit.

Kwame Mbalia, I hope you get your own copyright soon.
Profile Image for may ➹.
471 reviews1,898 followers
February 19, 2021
This book truly captures the heart of middle grade for me: the lovable characters, the fun adventures, and the humor, all paired with important themes and messages. Generational trauma and the importance of remembering the pains of the past were tackled so well here, especially for the target audience of children, as well as general themes of grief and guilt. Tristan was such a wonderful protagonist, a kid who wants to be a hero but still with fears and doubts, especially because of how he believed he failed and missed an important opportunity to be heroic.

I read this as an audiobook, and though the narration was excellent and I think it fit the fast pacing of the book well, I wasn’t as familiar with certain terms (pertaining to the West African mythology particularly) as I wish I could’ve been. Regardless, the audiobook didn’t hinder my enjoyment of learning about the legends and folklore incorporated in this world.

I truly loved this book a lot and I’m so glad that Tristan exists for young Black kids to look up to! Can’t wait to continue the series.

:: representation :: Black cast

:: content warnings :: death, violence, references to slavery
Profile Image for Jessica.
568 reviews776 followers
September 21, 2020
I received a copy of this book for free as part of an Instagram tour (Storygram Tours specifically) I did to promote the book.

So first off I just want to say that it is incredibly refreshing to read a book about mythology that isn’t Greek. I know very little about African/African American mythology so it was fun to learn about it through reading this book.

Since this is the first book in a new series, it is a little slow. That is understandable since there is a lot of world building and set-up that needs to be done. The one thing it could have done better was developed some of the supporting characters more. Like I wanted to know more about Ayanna. I can tell there is more to her. However, I am sure this will be revealed in the coming books.


I really liked that there was a map included. Maps are always so helpful in reading fantasy books and makes it easy to follow the heroes on their journey.

I also liked how the author would slip in some important messages throughout the book. At one point John Henry is talking about the Jim Crow laws and states, “A lot of times those little facts get smudged cutoff the history books. If you gon’ tell a story, you better be sure you’re telling the right one” (pg 108). At another point the main character muses, “it was my job to carry the stories of the land to its people. All the stories. If we ignored the past, how would we learn from it” (pg 426). Both of these quotes are so important because they show the importance of learning history, both the good and the bad.

Overall, I thought this was a Strong start to a new Own Voices series. I am intrigued to see what happens next.
Profile Image for Ashley Nuckles.
190 reviews7,281 followers
June 9, 2020
Much different than I was expecting, but still a wild ride! I loved Tristan so much!!
Profile Image for Erin.
475 reviews35 followers
August 11, 2019
I hate to feel so lukewarm about a book coming from such a cool storytelling tradition (as soon as I saw that it's based on African-American folklore, I was all over it), but honestly it was a slog. It is a very long book for middle grade, with lots of locations, characters, and SYMBOLISM.

The best parts of the story were in the beginning, where Tristan is interacting with his family. I think Tristan's recurring thoughts on adults are a great theme - adults are always telling him what to do, without always modeling the lessons they're imposing on him. Tristan's voice is wry and funny in the beginning (strong echoes of Bud, Not Buddy), but as soon as he descends to MidPass, he spends all his time being confused and asking questions that take a long time to get answered.

The adventure is overall a huge bummer, which makes sense. The monsters (fetterlings, hullbeasts, brandflies, the Maafa) all represent African enslavement and transportation through the Middle Passage. Your typical middle grade novel doesn't deal with such a long and horrific history of human cruelty. (I mean, imagine if Camp Halfblood's gods and monsters were from a more recent past. Like we were the great-grandkids of the conquered Trojans. It would make the fantasy much less fun.)

The beginning half has a lightness to it that the latter half is missing. Thank goodness for the annoying Gum Baby to bring some levity. For a storytelling tradition populated with iconic tricksters, there wasn't much cleverness to be found in the gods of the story. They're all grim and powerless against the forces that are stealing their people. The system of magic didn't always make sense - honestly, what I really wanted was for Tristan to tell some of the classic folktales with the heroes sitting right there arguing over interpretations. Or better yet, relive them and use their lessons to beat his enemies.

The end of the story does make me hope that the sequel will take place more in Tristan's world than MidPass, with his family front and center.

Received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for rain.
607 reviews345 followers
February 17, 2021
this book didn't pull any punches (pun intended) and hit all the right places. i love the pacing very much and it has a lot of action-packed scenes that kept my restless brain engaged. i also adore the characters and the humor in the dialogue. gum baby is obviously the star of this book and im looking forward to seeing more of her in the sequel. i don't really know much about african american folktales and west african mythology so it was a pleasure to be introduced to all these interesting stories and characters. i also adore how this book gives importance to stories. every time tristan tells i story, i genuinely feel like im witnessing his magic in person as well.

the only thing im sad about is that i read this via audiobook. i think it's better to consume this book physically or via ebook to fully immerse yourself in the world and understand the terms and the names of the characters. im hoping to read the ebook for the second book so i can get a better grasp on the story. nevertheless, i still enjoyed reading this first book. so excited to go on another journey with tristan and the squad in the next!
Profile Image for Sana.
1,076 reviews956 followers
Shelved as 'anti-library'
October 19, 2020
DUUUUDE. I don't even care that it's MG, Imma read it
Profile Image for Nikki S.
1,416 reviews65 followers
October 25, 2019
**EDIT 2/4/2019**

Y'all this cover gave me CHILLS. Like real, legit chills.

**EDIT 10/12/2019**

SWEET PEACHES THAT WAS GOOD! Real review to come.

**EDIT 10/24/19**

You can find more of my reviews here at my blog: Take Me Away...

I have started and restarted this review so many times. I even had to stop one night so I could sleep on it. But I just didn't think I could get this review right. There's so much in this book tto hhat I didn't think I'd ever see in a book, let alone one for kids.

Tristan Strong hasn't felt like his self since he lost his best friend Eddie. He goes to his grandparent's house to heal. While there, strange things begin to happen. A sticky doll comes out of nowhere and steals Eddie's journal and he chases her. She almost gets away until he punches a Bottle Tree... which sends them to MidPass where there's African American gods. To get back home Tristan has to make sure the sky is fixed and that he won't lose anything else he won't love.

I can't express how much this story meant to me. Seeing so many strong Black characters fighting against the very things that haunted them; chains and "Uncle C"... it was more than amazing. And this story was also filled with so much Blackness that I never thought I'd see in a book. For instance, the Bottle Tree. The fact that I had one of those in my front yard, thanks to my own mother, made me realize just how imoprtant it was to me. Before I even finished it I called my mom and said she needed to read it too.

As for the characters, I loved every one of them. (But no one can top Gum Baby lol) I loved seeing some of the characters I've heard from stories back when I was younger from my mom. John Henry and all of them were straight from the tales. But there were still some tales I hadn't heard and went back and did some research on those that I didn't. Not only was this entertaining, but it was also educational.

As for the plot, I did feel that it was too close to the chosen one troupe. It ticked every box for it, but, with all the fighting and the storytelling, I thought that was more than ok. And for this to be the first in the series, I can't imagine a better origin story. It's definitely only rivaled by the other origin stories from the Rick Riordan imprint.

This book was everything I needed and more. I remember hearing about this story and being extremely excited to see the cover reveal. And now I'm super excited that I've read and loved this book. I can't wait to read more Tristan Strong.
Profile Image for Amy Imogene Reads.
903 reviews776 followers
March 23, 2022
4.5 stars

Stories are a kind of magic. This is no such average story—it IS magic.

Concepts: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★★

Let's say there was a land where the People once lived...

Sometimes there are stories that you didn't know needed to be in your bones until you hear them crackle in your head with the force of thunder. Their rightness sits in your skin and you feel the chills hit your shoulders and travel down your body with the sense of "I'm here, let me tell you a story."

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is one of those tales, and its reverberations are still echoing in my thoughts as I write this review.

There's a boy, there's a crack, and there's another world.

We've heard these notes before—but not quite in this way.

Let's say there are monsters...

In this other world, Tristan tumbles into the MidPass, a mythical storytelling god zone that is home to the stories and truths of the African and African American people. John Henry and his hammer. Brer Rabbit and his warren. High John and his deals with the devil's daughter. Nyame the sun god with eyes of burning gold. Women who can fly and people made of bronze. A burning sea with bone ships of pain.

We could call it "down the rabbit hole" if we wanted to evoke Alice and her travels, but Tristan's experience is no kind of wonderland, and he's carrying a lot more baggage than Alice ever shared. Tristan's best friend died in a tragic bus accident in front of Tristan's eyes, and now he's literally punched a hole into the world of the MidPass and brought an evil spirit to wreak havoc on the people of MidPass.

It's all his fault, Tristan and the residents of MidPass know it, and he's no hero.

But when Tristan tells a tale, the world responds.

And to the gods built on storytelling, there is no strength greater than that of the storyteller.

Let me give you some truth, and I hope it returns back to me.

Sometimes you don't need a hero. You just need someone willing to take the step. With demons, devils, and evil spirits intent on destroying the MidPass, the gods and Tristan are willing to try before the end comes for them. It's almost certainly a loser's game.

But Tristan Strong comes from the Strong family—and the Strong family has a saying.

Strongs keep punching.

I have nothing to add to the magic of this story beyond my sheer awe at its magic. For a debut, this was truly a showstopper. If you're like me, and you have a weird bias against people/illustrations of people on book covers, don't let that flimsy wall keep you from picking up this novel for too long.

This is a new classic, one I expect to see printed and reprinted for schools and generations to come. There's a magic here.

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Profile Image for Sam.
473 reviews81 followers
July 26, 2020

What is it with 2020 and all these books I’m excited for letting me down?

This book was one I was anticipating reading. West African gods and African American folk heroes along with middle grade adventure? Sign me up! And while I loved reading about these legends, there were many elements to this book that left me unsatisfied.

But I’ll first talk about what I liked. I did enjoy reading from Tristan’s perspective. As well, the parts about him and Eddie were emotional. I’m a sucker for angst, what can I say?

Other than that though...

The pacing I found to be completely off. This book is FAR too long for what it needs. There are parts that could easily have been shortened or cut. Many things were repetitive. We don’t spend nearly enough time with Tristan’s family at the beginning of the book and just dive into the action without any build up.

The characters were all pretty flat for me. I know absolutely nothing about any of them.

Even though I liked reading from Tristan, at times I found his character to be quite inconsistent. One moment he’s like “no, I won’t fight, I won’t be a hero.” And then literally two seconds later he’s like “I must help everyone! I want to fight!” It was all over the place.

I’m so sad that this didn’t really work for me, but I’m happy knowing that it works for so many others! Keep books like this coming out on the shelves publishers! We need more diversity and for people of all different backgrounds and races to see themselves represented. And books like this do that.
Profile Image for My_Strange_Reading.
511 reviews82 followers
November 4, 2020
What an important series. I am so thankful for Rick Riordan’s ability to raise other amazing writers up.

This book was a wild ride and I loved it. Mythology has never been one of my favorite genres, but this book was just incredible.

We get to travel with Tristan through African (and African American) mythology and legends while he also learns to heal from his own loss.

Loved it. Loved how much I learned about some myths/legends and folklore that I had never been exposed to, and I can’t wait to read the sequel.
Profile Image for Amerie.
Author 5 books4,127 followers
October 13, 2020
Poignant. Wonderful. And so necessary for the young ones coming up, needing to see themselves in stories full of adventure, magic, and truth.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 29 books5,609 followers
May 3, 2020
This was fabbity fab! I'ave always had a soft place in my heart for John Henry, and I love the Brer Rabbit stories as well. Seeing them, along with other African and African American myths and folktales, brought to life in gorgeous detail, was a delight. And Tristan was pretty great, too. He reminded me of Miles Morales, and I loved how he used his "power." I can't believe this is Mbalia's first book, because it's just . . .well, fab!
Profile Image for Filip Ilukowicz.
73 reviews
February 22, 2022
Świetna książka dla wszystkich fanów Ricka Riordana i ogólnie książek z mitologią w tle. Pierwszy raz czytałem o mitologii afrykańskiej, więc było to naprawdę ciekawe doświadczenie.
Profile Image for Ms. Woc Reader.
469 reviews650 followers
May 10, 2022
I was doing a great job reading at least one backlist book every month and then I kind of fell off. So this month was a return to it as I decided to finally read Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky which I've owned for a couple of years.

Tristan is sent to stay with his grandparents on their farm in Alabama after a tragic accident in which he looses his best friend. Tristan ends up in this alternate universe after a strange doll-like being sneaks into his room and steals his journal. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle in this strange land alongside African American legends.

I liked the relationship between Tristan and his friend Eddie. There was conversation between them about preserving the stories that have always been told orally for the younger generation. And I liked that storytelling was a super power in this. The mythology was African American mythology and I like how it created this new story for characters introducing them to the younger generation. It does get heavy at times because of the legacy tied to not only these stories but Black Americans as a whole.

I listened to the audiobook and I wasn't a big fan of the narration. Especially when it came to Gum Baby who was this sassy Black woman type character. And the narrator would put on a particular voice for Gum Baby that just aided to some of the witty quips feeling forced to me. I probably would've enjoyed the character more when I was a child but there were times during the audio where it was a lot.

I think the book was also a little too long and started losing momentum at some points. While it was very fast paced I wasn't fully invested.
Profile Image for Skip.
3,249 reviews393 followers
December 29, 2019
Chicago teenager Tristan Strong is sent to his grandparents in Alabama for the summer after his friend Eddie is killed in an accident. On his first night there, a creature steals Eddie's journal and Tristan chases him into the woods, where Tristan accidentally punches a hole into the ground near a bottle tree, breaking one of the bottles and tearing a hole into another realm. He and the creature (Gum Baby) (the thief) fall into the realm taking a freed haint with them. Tristan finds himself in a world where African-American myths are real: he meets John Henry, Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit and discovers he is a storyteller. He also realized the realm is in deep trouble because of his error.

While I wanted to like this book, I just couldn't. It was too disjointed, the mythical characters were not understandable nor explained, except Gum Baby was a riot. And Tristan kept alternating between being strong and weak.
Profile Image for Andy.
2,360 reviews185 followers
December 27, 2021

Rick's introduction to this book gave me all the feels. I am so glad this series and the whole Rick Riordan Presents imprint exists. This book is phenomenal.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is the first in a trilogy about Tristan Strong, a Black boy in seventh grade. After a bad boxing match, Tristan heads out to his grandparents house full of feelings he doesn't know how to process. Not only is he dealing with family expectations about boxing, but also grieving the death of his best friend, Eddie. All he has left is a book of stories the two were working on together.

When a doll like creature comes to steal the book, Tristan gets in a fight and ends up punching a Bottle Tree which rips a chasm into MidPass. The world is full of the folktales his grandma has always told him. But Tristan will have to navigate this world on the brink of war in order to find Anansi, the Weaver god, and have him fix the hole in the sky.

Tristan Strong reminds me of why I love middle grade so much. There are so many amazing themes explored in this book and it's only the start. I'm so glad I reread this because having the vague familiarity with names I got from my first read, let me know sink even deeper into this world and enjoy the folktales and mythology. I loved all of the characters Tristan met and I can't wait to see what is in store for him in book two.

Besides having an engaging plot and great world building, this book is also full of humor. Especially with Tristan's companion, Gum Baby. Gum Baby never fails to make me laugh and bring humor or joy to every scene she's in. I can't wait to see more of her.

This was such a strong debut. Mbalia holds no punches and really lets us explore the world of Alke. I am so glad this story exists!

Rep: Black male MC, side WLW couple, All Black, African-American and African disapora cast.

CWs: Death, fire, grief, injury/injury detail, violence. Moderate: Car Accident (Bus accident), child death, racism, depictions of slavery.

This was an amazing debut and I need to reread it. I loved the mythology of this and how the stories Tristan was told as a kid came to life. This felt the same as reading Percy Jackson but with a different set of gods. I absolutely loved it. I can't wait for book 2.

Gum Baby was the best side kick/partner in crime I have ever met. Every scene with Gum Baby made me howl with laughter. This was a grand adventure and I recommend it for everyone.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,978 reviews3,297 followers
November 23, 2019
One of the newest additions to the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky offers a middle grade adventure story that integrates figures from West African mythology and African American folk heroes as characters. It's fast-paced and action packed with rich symbolism and subtle (for middle grade) messaging about the importance of collective memory and unity among Black people from different places. It's also a story of a seventh-grader from Chicago grieving the death of his best friend and getting pulled into another world while visiting his grandparents farm in Alabama.

Figures to make an appearance include John Henry, Anansi, and Brer Rabbit, among others. The magic system centers on the power of storytelling, which is beautiful metaphorically. Interestingly, the monsters and villains in the story are related to slavery and oppression. Fetterlings are iron monsters that look like handcuffs and there are dark forces related to greed and enslavement. Ultimately, the power of collective memory, unity, cleverness, and storytelling are the forces that lead to their demise.

Despite these heavy themes, the tone of the book is generally light with plenty of humor (some of which I'm a little old for, but then I'm not the target audience), fight scenes, and sweeping lands for Tristan to explore. There is a lot to love here and I'm glad that this exists. I think it would be a fun book for young readers and one where Black boys can see themselves represented in a positive and nuanced way, which is incredibly valuable. In full disclosure, my personal enjoyment of this book was probably around 3 stars, but because I'm not the target audience and because I think this is very well done for what it is, I'm adjusting my rating accordingly.
Profile Image for Alice-Elizabeth (Prolific Reader Alice).
1,147 reviews153 followers
April 8, 2021
My first time reading a book published by the Rick Riordan imprint and I wasn't disappointed!

We follow a young black boy called Tristian who after losing his closest friend in an accident moves into his grandparents' house in Alabama for the time being. He still treasures his friend's journal which is filled with fantasy worlds and creative stories. However, when Tristian encounters a strange creature trying to steal the journal, he ends up kicking the side of a tree in frustration and tumbles into a world just like the one written by his friend. Loved the African mythology and the characters throughout. The pacing was a little slow for me in places. I look forward to getting a copy of the sequel at some point!

T/W- Grief, Death, Violence, Mentions of Slavery
January 18, 2022
Sweet peaches!! This was so good!! I am all about this book! Being from the south, & also living 45 minutes from Chicago for a few years, I was all about the dialogue. It especially took me back to the south, whether with Tristan’s dialogue himself, or a couple of the God’s in particular. It felt like home reading this book, hearing them in my head if that makes sense. LOVED. I love how Tristan almost talks to us the reader at parts, & often tries to paint the picture of whatever he is talking about-whether it’s something he is feeling or seeing. Makes you feel even close to him, & more attached & even more invested.

The writing is so engaging, & vivid, & the humor is so on point. This is my 1st read with African & African-American folklore/mythology, & I want more. What complex, fascinating characters & stories-and IMPORTANT stories too. John Henry & High John in here particularly moved me, & I adore them. Important messages slipped into the adventure throughout, like talking about Jim Crow, & things being left out of textbooks. If you’re going to tell a story, tell ALL of it. And Tristan himself even thinks to himself a variation of something I say often: “If we ignored the past, how would we learn from it?” Facts.

There’s also pressure to following in the family footsteps, & not feeling good enough or living up to those who came before you. Also, grief. Losing a best friend & the guilt Tristan carries around heavily on his young shoulders. Every memory is important, even the painful ones. Pain is a part of healing. This has everything & more. Great themes/messages, African Gods, real life villains from slavery, iron monsters, bones ships, magic, mystery, danger, adventure, bravery, humor, culture, a dangerous quest, friendship, atmosphere, & so much more. Vivid, descriptive, atmospheric, engaging, & just superb writing. Several scenes got me emotional-not in a bad way at all. Just phenomenal story telling. Page 123-124 for example. Wow, I FELT the emotion coming off the page.

Also, the author could write some of the most beautiful sentences I’ve ever read. When you read this, & you get to the last paragraph on page 397-1st paragraph on page 398..wow. Also, 2 of my favorite Tristan quotes: “What are memories except stories we tell ourselves right?” & “What’s a song but a story told to a beat?” So gooood! The best characters in here obviously. My favorites are Tristan himself, & John Henry & High John. But my heart belongs to Chestnutt & Gum Baby…Man oh man Gum Baby. That little “doll” could easily have been annoying, but this author is so phenomenal, he managed to write her in a way that wasn’t, & made you fall in love with the little stinker lol She’s the best. I’m reading book 2 now, & already loving it. Highly recommend! Stunning cover by Eric Wilkerson too!💜
Profile Image for aphrodite.
381 reviews860 followers
February 15, 2020
**2.5/5 stars

this was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019 as I am always looking for diverse mythology and anansi is one of the most interesting deities across all cultures. unfortunately it left me disappointed :(

I will say that I did enjoy how symbolism was played in a subtle way with the villains as well as the character interactions, specifically gum baby who was hilarious (also the audiobook is FANTASTIC !!) I also liked how “flawed” tristan is and the growth he goes through in the book.

what left me so deflated was the world and the plot. I was so so SO confused on character descriptions (like, what IS gum baby ?????) as well as the overall picture of alke. the map certainly helped but I found many things hard to visualize. I also don’t think the mythology was explained well enough? for a book to be centered around stories & legends I never got a grasp on them which was disappointing. likewise, I feel like there was wayyy too much action that I was constantly wondering what was actually happening and what the plot/goal was. maybe my reading comprehension was lacking but this middle grade book had me “????” the whole time.

I hate that this fell flat for me because the concept was right up my alley. I would still recommend everyone give it a shot if it interests you though!
Profile Image for Samm | Sassenach the Book Wizard.
1,144 reviews244 followers
January 3, 2020
This was so much damn fun! I don't know a ton of West African folklore but I know I've interacted with it in very brief capacities through out films and TV and some books. It was cool to have a contemporary setting that pulls in West African folklore. It was all fun and quick. I loved Tristan Strong as a character. His life hasn't been easy but he has pieces that...honestly most people can see a connection to. I am super curious to see how we will fix the fantasy world/setting which was ripped open. I want to look up a lot of the cultural influences in this now.

Rep: Black own voice
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