Tristan met Eddie a few years ago in the school library, where Eddie showed him the notebook full of traditional stories that he was collecting. Eddie didn’t make it through the bus crash, so now all Tristan has left of his best friend is the notebook, and it seems only he can see the green glow peeking out of its pages.
Tristan hasn’t handled life very well since the accident, so his grandparents have come to take him down to their farm in Alabama. He’s just lost a boxing match at school, and his father and grandfather have let him know that Strong men do not lose boxing matches. At this point, Tristan is as low as he’s ever been, so when a little doll made of sap shows up in his room one night trying to steal Eddie’s journal, Tristan ignores his better judgment and takes off after her, smashing into his grandparent’s bottle tree that keeps the evil spirits at bay. Unknowingly, he has ripped a hole in the veil between his home and the world of African folktales, setting that world on fire.
In this thick, action-packed adventure story, Mbalia introduces western readers to a panoply of African gods and goddesses, both good and evil, along with a wealth of African-American folklore. Tristan turns out to be an excellent storyteller, like the spider god Anansi, spinning webs of tales. It is up to Tristan and John Henry to repair the hole in the sky and save his new friends, including Brer Rabbit and his brilliant bunny student, Chesnutt. In order to do so, he has to retrieve the Story Box, which has been stolen from MidPass and taken to a rival kingdom. Tristan’s own mission is to recover Eddie’s journal before he can go home. His friend’s handwritten notebook is mysteriously valuable, and the war to possess it has already caused the death of several beloved characters.
This new novel is part of the “Rick Riordan Presents” imprint. The bestselling author of the Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase series is lending a hand to new writers whose works feature non-western mythologies. For those of us at Wake County Libraries, it is a special treat to know that Mbalia is a Raleigh resident who wrote Tristan Strong in our North Regional Library! I also listened to portions of the audiobook, read by Amir Abdullah, and especially enjoyed the sassy voice he gave to the exasperating Gum Baby.
Since Tristan will no doubt return to MidPass in future installments, parents will be happy to know that– for all the superhero action– Tristan is a great kid who is overcoming his heartbreak and self-doubt, and his strongest epithet is “Sweet peaches!” Highly recommended for fantasy lovers 10 and up, especially those looking for more Percy Jackson readalikes.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book—one of the dozens that I bought! Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.