Title: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
(Tristan Strong #1)
Author: Kwame Mbalia
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy / Mythology
Length: 496 pages
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Publish Date: October 15, 2019
Setting: Chicago, IL
Alke & Midpass
Kidnapping, Violence, References to Slavery, Death
Black, West African
Thank you so much to Sammie & Annemieke for doing this buddy read with me. I’m so sorry that it ended up taking me longer to finish it than I anticipated, but I’m glad I finally did it! Ugh this was such a great book and I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you all.
- The Rick Riordan Presents imprint is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen for #OwnVoices authors to write some amazing MG mythology stories. I’m so glad this exists.
- Okay I actually remember hearing about Anansi! The spider, right?
- Wow, I’m kind of bummed that he’s the only person I heard about growing up.
- But wow, I’m glad I get to learn about more myths out there.
- Damn it Tristan I just need to give you a huge ass hug because my gosh. I can’t imagine your pain right now.
- Gramps needs to stop that. Nana, handle your husband please.
The effects of slavery last for generations
This one is clearly obvious, but sometimes I feel like people think that we should “get over it” because it “happened so long ago” or whatever. Like there’s supposed to be a time limit on how long you or your family can feel grief or anger towards a series of events that have had tremendous circumstances that you feel to this very day. You can see it in this world when Tristan has to come across certain monsters that really just reminded me of what the African people had to go through and endure. Bone ships that carry the dead or the near-dead in a burning sea, the metal monsters that chain people up and take them away never to be seen again, the brand flies that cause marks and poison to affect the victim. Don’t tell me that you don’t see how obvious Mbalia was trying to make the negative effects of slavery be prevalent in the world of Alke, and show it in a way that gave these demons a physical form that Tristan and the others could fight.
I feel like Mbalia did an amazing job of bringing this very hard topic to the forefront of a MG Mythology novel in a way that younger audiences can understand without it having to get very graphic or gory for them to enjoy.
Grief and Survivor’s Guilt sometimes go hand in hand
Not only was Tristan having to deal with the tragic death of his best friend Eddie – which was finally explained a bit towards the end – but it also seemed like he was having survivor’s guilt and was guilty that he wasn’t able to save him. A lot of that feeling is reflected in his behavior and actions, even when we first meet him after his first boxing match. He lost because he just was not mentally prepared to do it. He kept putting himself down about it, and just didn’t feel like he should have even been a boxer in the first place, not like his family. But I understand that because of the aftermath of Eddie’s death. Thank goodness his parents had him going to see a therapist, and I’m so glad that Tristan listened to his therapist and found the talks to be worth remembering, but it was clear that maybe he still needed to let go of the hurt and guilt that he was having.
He needed time to heal, and of course there isn’t a time limit on how long it should take someone to be done with the grieving and healing process, but it also seemed like maybe he was holding some things in that he didn’t or wouldn’t let out with his therapist. It also didn’t help that his Grandpa would make him feel guilty about his boxing match, and make it seem like he was letting the whole Strong family down because he lost one match. ONE match. It wasn’t the end of the world. He wasn’t boxing to save anybody – not that match anyway – so why did his grandpa have to be so hard on him? You know?
Maybe I waited too long to write this review because I’m not having much to say about it, but it’s okay. Not all of my reviews have to be ten thousand words long.
But I was proud of Tristan and his growth throughout this first installment. He had to learn to own up to his mistakes, but also realize that not everything was about him and he needed to help clean up the mess he made before the rest of Alke would suffer for it. The time structure between our world and Alke was so different – well, a few hours in our world was a whole year in their world, so imagine that – and there was a lot of pain and suffering that happened because of Tristan’s actions. At first he just wanted to go home. He didn’t really care about helping anyone unless that meant that he could go home. But thank goodness he was able to change his tune on that because I would have been very disappointed in him. Yes, I know he’s semi-young, but not that young where he doesn’t realize that he needs to think of the bigger picture.
Well, I felt like Tristan was another little brother of mine and all I really wanted to do was hug him and tell him that it was okay, that he could feel guilty for a bit, be angry for a bit, but then he needed to be strong and step up the way that he needed to. I just wanted him to know that I was rooting for him no matter what. I just wish I could have helped him realize that not everything was his fault, and just stand up to his Grandpa for him and ugh. I don’t know. I was crying reading about him at some parts because I could just feel the pain and the guilt that he felt and it didn’t help that some of the Midfolk or Alkeans were making him feel like a piece of trash too.
I get that there was anger on allllll sides of this situation, but man it hurt me that it seemed like everyone was taking out their pain and frustration on Tristan mostly because he didn’t belong there. And by that I mean he wasn’t born and/or raised in Alke, he came from the “real world” meaning our world, so he had no claim to much of what was going on and didn’t have anyone else to back him up. I’m so glad that Ayanna ended up somehow being by his side the entire time, even if she was angry at him for what he did and was frustrated with him as well. I get that.
I absolutely adored the plot. I’m glad that this is going to be a series – although I don’t know how many books are going to be in this series so I’m still curious about that – because there were some things that I feel were left open ended and I just need to know if those things are going to be resolved or at least addressed in the other books. Plus I’m trying to figure out if there’s something super special about Nana besides her being just an awesome character in general, you know?
The prose worked for me. I loved that there were parts where you could clearly hear Tristan talking to us, as if he were telling us his story. Which duh, if you read this novel it should sound like that and I’m so glad that Mbalia kept that feeling throughout the entire novel. The voice just completely matched what I would expect Tristan to sound like if I were talking to him in person, and it made it so perfect. He really is such an amazing storyteller.
Pacing seemed really perfect for me. I was left at the edge of my seat a lot of the time, and I didn’t feel like there was anything that either was too long or too short as far as the timeline or anything. That sentence didn’t really make a lot of sense but I hope you get what I mean. There wasn’t anything that I felt like prolonged the story longer than it needed to be, and I didn’t feel like there were any parts that went too quickly for me to the point that I didn’t understand it or just felt like it shouldn’t have been included in the first place. This really was done so perfectly to me and I’m so glad that I got to experience it.
I need more Tristan Strong! I knew I was going to love this book when I first heard of it, and then I bought it and kept looking at it trying to figure out if I wanted to read it sooner or later or way later. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to read this novel as a buddy read because I got to share some of my initial thoughts of the novel with Sammie and Annemieke on Twitter. It was great, and then I was able to sit back and think of what I wanted to say here. Which I think basically told you that I loved this book and I’m so glad something like this exists in my life.
I’m curious about this, would I be considered an #OwnVoices reviewer for this blog because of my African heritage? Let me know what you think. I know for me, I may not count it because I wasn’t familiar with all of the mythology involved in this novel, and I feel like that’s a disadvantage for me personally because I couldn’t reminisce on what I learned when I was growing up. Like I was mentioning, the only one that I really knew about was Anansi, and even then I don’t know all of his stories.
But anyway, I was just curious about that one because it would have been so cool to be an #OwnVoices reviewer for something like this. I loved this book so much. I know a lot of people mentioned Gum Baby in their reviews and I personally didn’t just because I was mostly focusing on Tristan, but she was one of the funniest characters in this whole book. I’m curious to see what she’s going to do in the second book. She’s a hoot, I tell you. A hoot.
7 thoughts on “Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia”
FIIIIIRST. Also, don’t apologize for taking long. You were just … savoring the book more than we did, obviously. 😉 Because you have a much more refined palette. “Nana, handle your husband” is a mood right there. xD
My totally unsubstantiated guess is that we’ll find out there IS something up with Nana, because she just felt like she knew things. Then again, what Nana doesn’t? I liked her, though, and hope she plays a role in the next one.
The #ownvoices question is such an interesting one, because … I don’t know? I feel like this is one you have to self-select for. I mean, I did know a surprising amount of the folklore … somehow … but I wouldn’t consider myself an #ownvoices reviewer simply because I actually identify as white, because I was raised by my neon white family, so that’s the culture I know and identify with. I think if you feel like an #ownvoices reviewer, then you own that. 😉
I’m glad you loved this book! My son and I did too. I love learning about new myths and folk tales.
Thanks for the link to my review at The Lesser Joke! I definitely agree that this was a great debut AND that I need to know where the story goes next. Hope we don’t have to wait too long for the sequel!
I need to read this! I just read my first book from the Rick Riordan Presents series, Race to the Sun, and loved the mythology and the fact that these books present #ownvoices in a way that’s so positive for young readers. Great review.