Book Review: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

June 19th, 2021 by

What are your plans for the summer? Maybe you’re traveling with your family, maybe you’re attending camp, maybe you’re looking forward to hanging out with your friends at the beach or by the pool or in the park… Well, whatever your plans, I bet you WON’T be spending your summer the same way as Tristan Strong: teaming up with gods to fight monsters made out of iron chains. Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a fun summer to me either! But in Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia, Tristan doesn’t have a choice. That’s because he caused part of the problem…

You see, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky isn’t just a cool title — it also literally describes an event that takes place in the book. One night, Tristan is awakened by a little creature stealing his most prized possession, the journal belonging to his best friend who recently passed away. There’s no way that Tristan is letting that journal go without a fight, and in the process, he accidentally rips a hole between his/our world and another land. 

In this other place, called Alke, the African gods and the heroes of African-American folktales are real — from John Henry to Brer Rabbit to Anansi. And unfortunately, they and all other residents are under constant attack by iron monsters called fetterlings, controlled by an evil spirit (or maybe even two). Now Tristan has made things worse by creating the hole in the sky, so it’s up to him and his new allies to find a solution, or else he’ll never get back home.

As you can tell, this book is full of fantasy, action, and adventure. If you like battle scenes, you’ll definitely find plenty in this book. But there’s also a lot to enjoy even if you don’t consider yourself a huge action fan. There are quieter moments when Tristan reflects on his grief over losing his best friend and starts working through his feelings, with the help of his new friends. And throughout the book, there are many moments when the magic of storytelling takes center stage. Plus, the book is funny! In particular, I think you’ll laugh out loud at the exploits of Gum Baby, a pint-sized “doll” who is absolutely full of energy and self-confidence — and always spoiling for a fight. 

For a taste of Gum Baby’s antics — and the beginnings of Tristan’s adventurecheck out the video below where author Kwame Mbalia reads a short passage from the book and talks about his inspiration for the story:

For more of Tristan and Gum Baby, pick up a copy of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. And once you’re done with that, you can read the sequel, Tristan Strong Destroys The World. The third book in the series, Tristan Strong Keeps Punching, comes out in October 2021.

Which characters from folktales or mythology would YOU like to meet? Which ones do you hope you never have to face? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

— Karen

Karen recently learned about Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett, a heroine from tall tales of the American West. As you can tell from her name, she is feisty and powerful and loud and brave — and Karen would love to meet her and learn more about her incredible feats of courage and strength.

More about Karen »

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