Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan chases after it — is that a doll? — and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?
I didn’t have a lot of expectations for this. All I’d heard was a couple of good reviews and just the knowledge that this book covers African American mythology.
We follow 12 year old Tristan moving to Alabama with his grandparents in order to calm down from the tragedy that took place that year at school. He’s nervously awaiting how his summer will go, when a strange creature breaks into his room and tries to grab a treasured item. Chasing after the creature, he accidentally punches a hole between his world and the MidPass, and now must work to repair the damage he has done.
The MidPass is full of creatures and figures from African American mythology and folklore; John Henry, Brer Rabbit, Anansi, and others you may know or may not know. Reading this book was truly a delight because I would be reminded of these figures I’d read about in picture books or seen on PBS shows, even I’d forgotten them. The mythology was rich and interesting.
For the record, you don’t need to know anything about these folktales to read the book. They are explained well for those who have no knowledge of them (but if you want a little teaser, here’s a good video on one of Anansi’s stories).
Tristan is such an unwilling hero and I kind of loved that about him. He’s a scared kid who acted rashly and is thrown into a war. Everyone expects so much of him without truly explaining it to him. Like he’s not a whiny kid who doesn’t want to do the work necessary to save these people, he’s just scared!
He did have a couple of jokes and 4th wall breaks that I wasn’t into, but I’m also not a middle schooler so I’m not bringing the book down because of that.
The side characters were also a delight. Don’t ask me why, but I really loved Brer Fox’s introduction.
This book also handles grief very well. The tragedy Tristan faced is always in the back of his mind, and he’s constantly driven to hold on to the memories of the good times, even if it means putting himself in danger. I’m not really an expert in grief, so I can’t speak for how the topic was handled as a whole.
4 stars! This book was phenomenal, from the folktales to the characters. I don’t think I’ll be picking up the sequel, but I will be looking into Mbalia’s future works.
(Also if you need background music, the Into the Spider-verse soundtrack was wonderful. It also made the whole book feel like it was drawn in the Spider-verse art style which was very cool.)
Have you read this book yet? What did you think of it? This was my first Rick Riordan Presents… and I am very impressed, so which one should I read next?