Tristan Strong is not your typical hero. At the beginning of the book, he's suffering grief and loss. His best friend died in a bus accident, and he lost his first boxing match. In a lot of ways, Tristan feels like a failure. But when a sticky creature steals his best friend's notebook, Tristan isn't about to give up. He chases after it, and a scuffle beneath a bottle tree results in Tristan accidentally punching a hole in the sky, releasing a terrible evil and sending him tumbling into the world of MidPass--a world where bone ships and chain monsters hunt anyone who dares to defy them, where African gods and folktale heroes rule, and where magic is real. With a band of new friends, Tristan will go on a journey to hunt down Anansi and close up the hole in the sky, stopping the evil he unleashed along the way.
Tristan Strong is not just another book about a male, middle school protagonist who goes on a quest, discovers he has magical powers, and saves the world. Sure, it's a fun adventure. Tristan does discover he has magical powers. But that's not what the story is about. The story is about grief and loss, about never giving up even when it feels like you've failed. It's about the importance of stories, and the way they sustained Tristan's ancestors through the darkest times in American history. This isn't an "issue" book; it's a book about a kid going on magical adventures. But his cultural background influences the story, and the reader is given a magical world that could only be created by a black author writing a black protagonist. Which is not to say that only black kids should read it; quite the opposite, in fact. Kids should read about people who are different than they are, just as much as they read about people who are the same. And Tristan Strong contains universal truths about hope, pain, suffering, and perseverance. Any kid will relate with Tristan, laugh aloud at Gum Baby's antics, and cheer when Tristan punches the evil back to where it came from.
We recommend Tristan Strong with these reservations: the monsters are scary (rightfully so), and may bother more sensitive readers; Tristan's attitude toward the adults around him is sometimes disrespectful, and this is not corrected; finally, the book is presented much in the same way the Percy Jackson books are, creating a fantasy world where a pantheon of gods rule. As Christians, we don't believe a pantheon of African gods rules some fantasy world in the sky; nor do we believe these characters ever existed. But we do believe it's valuable to understand other cultures and where myths like these come from, and reading the novel may inspire a unit study on African mythology, Black folktales, or oral storytelling. Tristan Strong will find his place on the bookshelf beside Percy Jackson and collections of myths and folktales, and introduce kids to an often overlooked slice of world mythology.
Review by Emily Wright
Emily fell in love with words when she was very young. An avid bibliophile, her collection contains over 400 books (and counting)! She can usually be found with a cup of coffee and her nose in a book (even at work!) Read more of her reviews here
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