I am so excited to talk about today’s book: Tristan Strong Punches A Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia. This is a book I have talked about almost constantly for months…because it is really THAT good. In February, I started a Myths and Folktales unit with my 7th graders and decided to read Tristan Strong out loud to them–which ended up being quite the success. Unfortunately for me and the 7th graders, schools closed before I was able to get even halfway through with our read-aloud. Last month, I picked the book back up again, restarted it, and finally finished it.
A little bit of general info on this book: this is a story about 12-year old Tristan Strong, who lives with his parents in Chicago. He is a boxer, like his dad and like his grandpa, so he definitely feels some family pressure. Tristan recently lost his best friend Eddie in an accident, a fact he is (obviously) still processing. To help him in this, and to keep him busy, his parents send him off for the summer to stay with his grandparents in the South…and that’s where our story really gets interesting. Shortly after Tristan arrives at his grandparents’ home in Alabama, Eddie’s journal (the last thing Tristan has of his friend besides memories) is stolen by a thief who is…interesting to say the least. When Tristan goes after the thief and Eddie’s journal, he accidentally opens a portal in a sort-of alternate universe where the tales of African gods and African-American folktales that Tristan grew up on are real. HIJINKS ENSUE. I will leave it at that.
There are so many things that are done so well in this book. For starters, Tristan is a great character. You are rooting for him from the get-go and he is so endearing and honest. There aren’t a lot of down moments–once the action gets started it doesn’t stop often, but this story was not in any means all action and no heart. Mbalia wrote these characters so wonderfully that you get attached to them quickly (or dislike them quickly) and are swiftly invested in their adventures. While I don’t want to go into too much detail and give away anything, I think one of the cleverest aspects of this book revolve around the “monsters.” The tools used to enslave and torture Africans (slave ships, fetters, brands, etc) in our world (Tristan’s world) become the monsters in this other world. It’s clever and so sad. One last shoutout–Tristan’s power is SO COOL and SO BEAUTIFUL. That is all I will say.
Recommendation: I feel like by the time I get to this part, you all know clearly how I feel, but just in case…YES, I highly recommend this book. If you’re a kid, read it. If you’re an adult, read it. If you are an adult with kids, read it to your kids. It’s so good, and if you are a fan of middle-grade fiction, especially involving mythology, I am fairly certain you will love it. Honestly, I’m toying with the idea of making this book an actual part of curriculum at some point, because I think it has so much value.
With that being said, I bid you all adieu for now! Keep reading! 🙂