Tristan Strong, a seventh grader, is supposed to be a boxer. He can hold his own in fights at school (no, his parents aren’t happy about school fights), but he loses his first official match, much to the chagrin of his father and grandfather, both champion boxers. So Tristan is not feeling strong, especially after he was unable to save his best friend Eddie. Over the summer, Tristan’s parents decide to send him to his grandparents’ farm in Alabama (without his input, of course!), hoping a change of scenery will help him process his grief. Tristan is dreading the trip, but he has no idea what he’s about to face.
On Tristan’s first night in Alabama, a sticky creature (Gum Baby) steals the journal in which Eddie collected folktales. A chase across the farm leads to his Nana’s Bottle Tree (totally off limits). As Tristan tries to wrestle the book away from Gum Baby, he punches the Bottle Tree, accidentally opening up a hole in the sky in the land of Nana’s stories. Tristen falls through the hole, bringing an evil haute with him. Now it’s up to Tristan to face his fears and fix the damage he’s caused.
Expertly weaving the mythology of West Africans and African Americans into the modern world, Kwame Mbalia brings gods like Brer Fox, Anansi, and John Henry to life. In this action-packed adventure, Tristan Strong faces a burning sea, bone ships, a shadow known as Uncle C, and fetterlings (chain like creatures with metal shackles for heads). On his journey, Tristan Strong comes to realize the importance of storytelling. Stories teach us the past, help us face our truths, and empower us moving forward.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is another stellar installment from Rick Riordan Presents. Each book in the series provides a contemporary, fast-paced story from cultures that are underrepresented in middle grade literature. Mbalia’s contribution lets African American children see themselves in the pages of a middle grade book and introduces all of us to the exciting world of African mythology.
Be sure to check out the second book in the series, Tristan Strong Destroys the World, as well as the third book, Tristan Strong Keeps Punching, which comes out October 5, 2021. You can preorder a signed copy at Books of Wonder.