Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is almost here, and Rick’s enthusiastic introduction to Kwame Mbalia’s boundary-breaking debut is truly lovely. Read it below.
The World Beyond The Sky
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 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 the 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 into the sky of the MidPass, the world of African American legends, he starts on the most epic of quests. Awaiting him are a malicious haint, relentless iron monsters, creepy 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 boxing match, thereby disappointing his father’s and grandfather’s hopes for him carrying on the family legacy. Sentenced to a summer at his 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 Tristan Strong. 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 it so that new generations of young readers could grow up with Tristan 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 Punches a Hole in the Sky. I envy you reading it 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.