Chicago seventh grader Tristan Strong travels to Alke, where African American folk characters are gods.
Tristan has just lost his first boxing match. It’s unsurprising, given he’s mourning the death of his best friend, Eddie, and struggling with accompanying survivor guilt, but unacceptable for someone from a boxing family. On the ride to summer exile with his grandparents in the Alabama countryside, Tristan begins reading Eddie’s story journal. Somehow, the journal allows Tristan to see folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit sending an unseen someone off on a mission. That night, Gum Baby (a hoot and a half—easily the funniest character in the book), from the Anansi story, steals Eddie’s journal. Needless to say, things go awry: A hole is ripped in the sky of Alke, and Tristan (but not only Tristan) falls in. The people of Alke are suffering, but grieving, reluctant hero Tristan’s unwilling to jump right in to help those in need, even when it becomes clear that he’s partly responsible, making him both imperfect and realistic. Mbalia’s African American and West African gods (with villains tied to U.S. chattel slavery and the Middle Passage specifically) touch on the tensions between the cultures, a cultural nuance oft overlooked. Readers who want more than just a taste of Alke will be eager for future books. Most human characters, like Tristan, are black with brown skin.
A worthy addition to the diverse array of offerings from Rick Riordan Presents.(Fantasy. 10-14)