Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia (496 Pages)

An Important Fantasy About Grief, Bravery, and Epic Adventures
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Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia (496 Pages)

The Sky Is Not The Limit Here Because Tristan Strong Literally Punched a Hole The Sky

In Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, after the tragic death of his best friend, Eddie, Tristan Strong unwillingly goes to Alabama to spend some time on his grandparent’s farm. With Eddie’s journal of stories packed tight, Tristan battles the pain of losing the best person in his life. But things get a little strange when Eddie’s journal starts glowing, and then Tristan starts having visions and hearing voices. Weird, right? Even weirder is the talking doll that wakes Tristan one night and steals Eddie’s journal, thrusting Tristan into a world that will leave him longing for the normalcy of Alabama. 

In an attempt to get the journal back from the mysterious, short-tempered ‘Gum Baby,’ Tristan Strong proves how strong he really is by accidentally punching a hole in the sky that sends him to a mythical world. ‘Alke’ is a world filled with African gods, evil spirits, and some very powerful magic. There, he meets African American legends like John Henry and Brer Rabbit, and soon learns that Alke is in the midst of chaos and destruction brought on by the infamous ‘Maafa.’ 

Unfortunately for Tristan, the Maafa gained the power to create iron monsters that are abducting the people of this magical land. Once Tristan learns that he is an ‘Anansesem,’ a person who harnesses the power to bring stories to life, he and his ragtag crew of friends devise a plan with the gods to save their people. With the chaos and destruction happening in the land of Alke, Tristan Strong may very well be their only hope. 

A Heartstopping Adventure That Reminds Us Never To Stop Telling Stories

Kwame Mbalia brings African American folklore and West African legends to life in this thrilling tale of bravery and healing. We see characters like John Henry, Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit, Anansi, and many more described through the eyes of a hesitant thirteen-year-old. 

This story incorporates aspects of slavery and how it affected people of African descent. For example, the “bone ships” we see on the Burning Sea represent slave ships used to transport slaves across the ocean, giving readers a clear sense of this story’s dark side. No matter how dark it gets, though, the resilience and perseverance of these powerful characters never dwindle, providing hope. 

Each character brought something unique to this story that made it worth telling. Gum Baby was a personal favourite of mine. With her more aggressive antics and quirky behaviour, she brought a particular vigour that added a lighthearted feel to a more serious matter — and that’s pretty hard to do when a whole world is on the brink of disaster.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is an epic tale that holds many powerful themes. We see Tristan battle the guilt and grief of losing Eddie throughout the story. However, Tristan learns through the people he meets in Alke that pain is a part of the healing process. And as I think about it, his whole journey to save this magical land mirrors his own healing process with Eddie’s death. 

Tristan faced a copious amount of hurdles, and he had to overcome each one to find his bravery. This is what makes him so relatable — his courage shines through when obstacles challenge him, while at the same time, he’s just a kid who is terrified of failure. He breaks out of that ‘perfect protagonist’ trope by showing his real human emotions and flaws, giving readers a strong sense of connection.

The Bottom Line: 5/5 Brookie Stars

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is a good balance of heartbreak and humour. The characters experience loss, grief, and pure evil, but plenty of lighthearted interactions put a real smile on my face. This story is full of revelations, such as the importance of stepping into who you are to show the world you’ve got what it takes to tell your story. 

We also get to see African American and West African folklore come to life through the eyes of a young boy, who uses the folklore’s strength to power through a harrowing voyage. At the beginning of Tristan’s story, he thought of himself as a victim, but as he found the courage to emulate his storytelling power, he became the hero. 

What book should we review next? Let us know by emailing us here!

Brittany Amalfi

Brittany Amalfi is a 20- something- year- old developmental specialist living in Massachusetts where she loves all things New England. Brittany is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing, and working on her young adult fantasy novel. When she isn’t writing, you can find her reading, working with awesome kiddos, and spending time with friends and family. 

Favourite book: I can only choose one? Shadow and Bone by Leigh bardugo
Favourite brunch spot: Primavera 

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