Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
I wanted to like this book so much, but I was disappointed at how much I struggled through it. I’m a big fan of the Rick Riordan Imprint and have read all of them now, and Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky started out strong (no pun intended) with the characteristic energy, fun, and tensions as the others in the imprint. Seventh grader Tristan has been struggling since his best friend, Eddie, died in a bus accident. And now his parents are shipping him from his home in Chicago off to his grandparents’ farm in Alabama for a month, which Tristan is dreading. His grandfather is tough and distant, convinced Tristan is soft because he’s a city kid, and he’s determined to make sure Tristan gets some honest hard work to toughen him up. But things go wrong the very first night when a weird doll-like creature named Gum Baby shows up and steals the only thing of Eddie’s he has left - his journal. He ends up chasing the creature right into a different world with all sorts of creatures who need his help and monsters who are intent on killing them all. In the process, Tristan meets and befriends the legends from black American folktales like John Henry and Brer Rabbit who need his help to save their world as much as he needs theirs to get back to his. I wanted to love this book, and I love everything about the concept, but after the first few chapters it turned into such a slog. At 500 pages, it feels way too long for a middle grade read, and there was a lot of redundancy to the various battles (how many times does Tristan really need to fight the same bad guys?), and a LOT of dialogue between the various characters (Gum Baby and Tristan have the same arguments over and over). I felt like it needed an editor with a strong hand to really streamline it and keep it moving. Overall, I’m bummed out that I didn’t like it more, because the Black American folktales all seem fascinating, and Tristan and Gum Baby were both great characters, but the execution of the novel just left me wishing it was about half as long as it is.
This review originally appeared on NetGalley. I received a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review of this title.
Book cover image courtesy of Disney Book Group.