Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan chases after it-–is that a doll?-–and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?
I never wanted to be a superhero as a child, but I wanted to do heroic things. Tristan Strong epitomizes the dreams of young black children who want to do and be both; be heroes/heroines and do heroic things. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is the Harry Potter for young black children. (A heavy claim, I know.) It is a grabbing combination of African folklore, African American history, African mythology, and the innate magic that is Blackness.
Tristan Strong just lost his best friend. His best friend, Eddie, was the peanut butter to his jelly. Eddie's journal is all that remains of their friendship. The journal is a leather-bound book of stories, told by Eddie and Tristan’s grandmother, respectively. Tristan takes the journal with him to Alabama; where he’s sent to stay with his grandparents, to heal from the loss. While there, he encounters a sticky doll and a bottle tree. (Don’t tell Gum baby I called her a doll.) Gum Baby sneaks into Tristan's room and steals Eddie's journal. In pursuit of the doll who stole his best friend’s journal, Tristan knocks into the bottle tree—ripping a hole between his world and the Mid-pass. As a result, he lets loose a long-contained spirit.
Tristan falls into a chasm with the loud-mouthed sticky creature and finds himself in a world where haunted ships and African gods exist.
I can’t tell you all how good this book is, at least not properly, or eloquently enough. I opened the book and Tristan grabbed me by the throat, threw me and Gum Baby into his hoodie, and did not let me go until the very last page. It was unputdownable.
I rarely find books unputdownable, but I did not want to put this book down. Rich in history, contemporary language, and a teachable juxtaposition between today’s African American and yesterday’s African lay a beautiful story, worthy of being passed down; not unlike the folklores told in the story.
Tristan’s relatability, his touchable grief, and his insecurities will reach readers young and old, but specifically the youth. This book is perfectly suited for its audience and even beyond. In the story, readers are introduced to a cast of characters they won’t soon forget. Though Anaya, our witty guide, among other small but vital characters weren’t as fleshed out, I didn’t find the story lacking. With a series, there should be some expectation of “left-out details.” Later books expound on the smaller details. Hashing everything out, in the beginning, leaves little to be desired later in the series. Book one gave enough backstory to hook the reader and keep the reader.
The world is like a multi-layered onion. The descriptions made the world leap off the page in frightening real and otherworldly detail. The descriptions of the gods, the villains, the physical spaces/lands, and the characters in all their uniqueness were one of the book’s shining spots. It brought life and color to the words making the story that much more lively and enjoyable.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is the book this generation's black youth needs. It shows them as heroes, gods, and heroines. It teaches Black history in a fun and approachable way. It is a beautiful piece of literature that will itself a "forever home" on any book lover's bookshelf. An outstanding and unforgettable debut. I want more, and more, and more.