Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

Disney-Hyperion/Rick Riordan Presents. Oct. 2019. 496p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781368039932.
Gr 5-8–Tristan is reluctantly on his way to spend the summer with his grandparents on the family farm. In his pocket he carries the journal of his best friend Eddie, killed in a bus accident. Tristan’s survivor guilt means he hasn’t read the journal, and he is trying very hard to ignore the strange green glow coming from its cover. When Gum Baby, a figure from West African legend, tries to steal the journal, Tristan races to retrieve it, breaking a bottle on his grandmother’s bottle tree and falling through a flaming hole into a parallel world. Here, the stories Tristan’s grandmother tells are solidly real: in the course of breathless chases, close escapes, and mounting stakes, he meets John Henry, Brer Fox, High John the Conqueror, and other figures from African and African American folklore. A race to retrieve Anansi’s story box reveals Tristan’s destiny as an Anansesem, a storyteller of power, and makes him a pivotal figure in the saving of this strange new world. While the novel is lengthy, the pace is quick, secondary characterizations are nicely delineated, and the folkloric figures are heroic and true to their legends. The world-building includes evocative descriptions of skeleton ships, manacled monsters, and deadly villains. In addition to being rife with action, the story is rooted in the emotional journey of the protagonist; between making friends and losing them, Tristan finally makes peace with Eddie’s death.
VERDICT Part of the “Rick Riordan Presents” series, this debut novel offers a richly realized world, a conversational, breezy style, and a satisfying conclusion that leaves room for sequels.

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