After losing his best friend in a bus accident, Tristan is sent to stay with his grandparents for a month on their Alabama farm. The grief counselor thinks the fresh air and quiet will help Tristan process the trauma. Unfortunately, Gum Baby snatches the only thing Tristan has left of his friend, a journal of stories, and leads him on a chase that ends at a bottle tree. In his anger, Tristan punches one of the glass bottles which releases a haint (evil spirit) and tears a hole between his world and Gum Baby’s, called MidPass. 

In MidPass, Tristan meets more of the characters from his grandmother’s old stories; Brer Rabbit, John Henry, Brer Fox, and the People Who Could Fly. They work together to find the Story Box and replenish the stories to draw Anansi out to mend the hole between worlds. Along the way, Tristan meets the mysterious Uncle C, who also wants the stories to regain his strength. Tristan struggles with what being strong means and how to find his own strength. 

I knew about many of the legends mentioned in this story but not a lot of specifics. The adapter did a great job presenting enough information that the audience could follow along without drowning in the details. Honestly, I enjoyed learning about the stories from a culture I am less familiar with and appreciated that stories are presented as powerful as physical strength.  

Tristan does plenty of punching throughout the story as the title implies, which is showcased in full color. It was wonderful to see all the brown skin tones. The illustrations have enough details to convey what is happening in the story without making the art too heavy. And there are plenty of panels full of lighter colors to balance out the darker earthy backgrounds. 

Since this is from the Rick Riordan Presents lineup, it is marketed to readers between the ages of 8-12, and I agree with that assessment. There are some heavy subjects like grief, loss, and slavery; however, the story is not focused on those things. This would be an excellent addition to any graphic novel or general library collection. 

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky: The Graphic Novel
By Kwame Mbalia, and Robert Venditti
Art by Olivia Stephens
Rick Riordan Presents, 2022
ISBN: 9781368072809

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Related media:  Book to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  African-American,  Character Representation: African-American

  • Liz

    | she/her Assistant Professor

    Reviewer

    Elizabeth Hollendonner is an Assistant Professor for Staley Library at Millikin University. She has been reading and enjoying graphic novels and manga since grade school, took a comics class under Dr. Carol Tilley and a book review class under Dr. Deborah Stevenson while earning her Master of Science in Library and Information Science degree.

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