In January of this year, I posted a review of Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. In that review, I encouraged everyone to read the book and to it in little hands. Representation matters, and the literary world needed (and still needs) that “nerdy, black kid from Chicago.”
In February, I pre-ordered the second installment of the trilogy. From the lime green cover hidden beneath the dust jacket and the illustrated map to the dedication, “For the stories across the Diaspora, and the elders who carried them,” I was again smitten.
Tristan Strong Destroys the World has the same powerful “punch” as the first book. The POV and Tristan’s voice is consistently fantastic throughout the entire novel, even when the reader is getting a little taste of history or commentary on the current state of affairs. And that is why it is such a brilliant series; it’s not heavy-handed because it doesn’t have to be.
Tristan Strong Destroys the World is set two weeks after Tristan returns to his world (it’s much a much longer time in Alke). He is still in Alabama, sent there to deal with the “trauma” he’d suffered when his best friend died and now dealing with the new trauma of his experiences in Alke.
Water spirits show up in the barn, seeking his help. Tristan thought the hole between the realms had been patched, but there they were. And then the plat eyes come. And finally, his Nana is stolen by the Shamble Man. Tristan has no choice but to return to Alke, where destruction and despair meet him at every turn.
Gum Baby is back and as mouthy and fantastic as ever. Ayanna and Anansi continue to have prominent roles. Miss Sarah and Miss Rose, John Henry, Chestnutt, Nayame and even King Cotton make appearances, but we also have new characters and their stories in Keelboat Annie, Lady Night the boo hag, Brer Bear, and Mami Wata. The African legends carried to Caribbean and the American South and places like Gullah Island, dancing and blending and growing as the stories are told and retold, all find a home in Alke.
“Nana,” I said slowly. “Can a whole bunch of people experience trauma at the same time?”
A sad smile crossed her face. “Of course, baby. Sometimes an evil will rock a community, strip their will and feeling right from them, until they’re raw and bleeding and hurting, inside and out. Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ferguson, Missouri. Oh yes, baby, a whole city can hurt at once.”
“And…how does a city like that – I mean, how do they all heal?”
Nana sighed. “Well, it’s like I said, just on a larger scale. At some point, it needs to be talked about.”
I thought about the spirits in the barn. The horror on their faces. They’d fled from something – something that affected them all. I clenched my fists. I needed to talk to them.
I was an Anansesem, after all. Finding and carrying other people’s stories was sort of my thing.
Storytelling is the heartbeat for people the world over, and it is a tradition we cannot afford to lose. Tell the stories. Let them read.