Somehow, this book had me laughing, crying, and screaming “WHOA, plot twist” at my family.
Tristan Strong is still reeling from the death of his best friend, Eddie, when his parents send him to work for his grandparents for the summer. After a thief attempts to steel Eddie’s journal, the last piece Tristan has of his best friend, all chaos breaks loose. In his efforts to get it back, Tristan ends up punching an ancient bottle tree, ripping a hole through our world and the world of Alke. Now, Tristan must get to know a world of myths that are real, and confront his worst fears to get back home.
I very much underestimated this book. I think because it’s technically a middle-grade read, I was expecting it to be slow, easy, and predictable. Let me tell you, it was none of the above. I’m not even sure where to begin here, so let’s just go with the characters. Tristan is the most developed protagonist I have read about in a long while. I loved that he wasn’t sure of himself in every step of his quest, unlike so many heroes. I found myself thinking of a quotation from Coraline while reading his story: “When you’re scared but still do it anyway, that’s brave.” Tristan Strong is definitely brave.
I do wish we’d seen more of Ayanna’s character. I just have a feeling she is going to be set up to be the Annabeth to Tristan’s Percy, so to speak, and I hope readers get to know her better in book 2! On the other hand, Gum Baby is the most hilarious character I think I have ever encountered. I have about a million highlights in this book, and her dialogue is half of them.
Above all else, I loved the message, and it is one I feel particularly important to remember in these times. This book is full of beautiful (and heartbreaking) African Mythology, and a lot of it is rooted in the stories of slaves. What Tristan tells us is clear: we need to tell the stories of the past, with all of the pain, and all of the joy. When we begin to rewrite stories, as so many of our history books have tried to, we cause nothing but harm. Tristan said it best, so I will leave you with a final quotation, and my insistence that EVERYONE READS THIS BOOK.
“As Anansesem, it was my job to carry the stories of the land to its people. All the stories. If we ignored the past, how would we learn from it?”
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 4.5/5 (rounded up)
Intended audience: Middle Grade (but all ages should read this book)
Content warnings: mentions of slavery
Shoutout to JV for picking this for our book club’s monthly read, and Happy reading!
Favorite Friday topic this week: Favorite genre to read