Chances are, you have never fought iron monsters or run after a doll that stole your dead best friend’s glowing green notebook, right? However, Tristan Strong has, after being transported to an alternate dimension where stories are alive. All this and more happens in Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia, which will keep you up reading at night.
The novel begins with Tristan Strong, on the morning after his first boxing match (which he lost) and some time after his only friend Eddie’s death; disappointed and a disappointment to his family. His parents send him to live with his grandparents in Alabama, and strange things immediately start happening. First, a doll who calls herself Gum Baby steals his dead friend’s notebook. Then, when Tristan chases her down to get the book back, he accidentally opens a portal between worlds.
The story takes Tristan to a world called Alke, where he falls onto a ship made of bones, and then onto a raft. Tristan soon discovers that the people who saved him from the bone ship, which was carrying fetterlings (iron monsters), are actually gods straight out of Eddie’s notebook. Just as he figures out, fetterlings attack. While in the midst of fighting fetterlings, he is sent off by the gods to find a Story Box, which is a device that controls the stories in Alke.
Mbalia describes Tristan in a way that makes him appear like an individual with high hopes, and a determined mindset. Mbalia’s storytelling is exceptional, so much that you can almost see Gum Baby or the bone ships. This book is a fast ride with no stopping moments and guaranteed to keep your attention span, no matter how short, fixated on the story. However, I felt like there were some missed opportunities during the book. For example, it is not entirely clear how Gum Baby got to Earth.
With the plot and the storytelling combined, I rate this fantasy novel nine out of ten. The style of the book is very similar to Rick Riordan’s novels. I would recommend this book for ages 9 to 14, and especially to Rick Riordan’s fans.