*Kwame Mbalia. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in The Sky. (Rick Riordan Presents...)
Read by Amir Abdullah.
9 CDs. 11 hrs.
Listening Library. 2019.
When his best friend and fellow storyteller Eddie passes away, Tristan Strong is sent into exile in Alabama to visit his grandparents on their farm. To make matters worse, the night before his departure, he loses his first boxing match, disappointing his father and grandfather who expect him to live up to the Strong family legacy and become a champion boxer. Although Tristan prepares for a boring summer, his world is upended when Eddie's journal, which the pair used to collect stories, is stolen by the sticky, wise-cracking doll, Gum Baby from the Anansi myths. His desperate chase to reclaim the journal causes him to accidentally punch and break a bottle from the bottle tree near his grandparents' farm, releasing a haint called Uncle C and ripping a hole between his world and another magical realm, Alke.
In Alke, he comes face to face with figures from African mythology and Black American folklore such as John Henry, High John, and Brer Rabbit, who enlist his help to find Anansi and convince him to repair the hole in the sky. He also must face off against the evil Maafa, an enemy with links to the evils of the slave trade including terrifying bone ships that rise from the sea and iron monsters made of chains known as fetterlings. Luckily, Tristan discovers his courage and new abilities as an Anansesem, a powerful storyteller with ties to the Anansi's abilities, to fight the evil he released.
Actor and writer Amir Abdullah expertly narrates this fully-voiced reading of the book, seamlessly switching between voices and accents of characters. Notably, his high-pitched, smart-mouthed Gum Baby springs to life in hilarious fashion and provides the comic relief for the story. Abdullah's reading perfectly captures the adventurous highs and the emotional lows of the story with appropriate tone and pacing and emotional voice breaks at key points in the story. His reading breathes life into the Mbalia's story and characters and makes for a delightful listening experience.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, part of the Ricki Riordan Presents Imprint, is the debut novel of Coretta Scott King Award honoree and bestselling author Kwame Mbalia. He is currently at work on a sequel to Tristan's adventures.
Reviewed by Carlina Arsenault