The most important lesson I learned from reading Tristan Strong Destroys the World is to get up when you are knocked down. Author Kwame Mbalia brings readers rocketing back to the world of the Strong family farm in Alabama and to the life of teenager Tristan Strong. Tristan is still dealing with his grief over the death of his friend Eddie and reconciling with what he experienced on his past journey to Alke, the world where African and black mythological heroes and gods exist.
Tristan has resumed his life on his grandparent’s farm, with the god Anansi locked in a cell phone which acts as the story box. Tristan has been taught from his boxing training how to fight and to keep moving. Tristan doesn’t get to spend long back at the family farm between his adventures to Alke. A mysterious monster called the Shamble Man kidnaps his Nana forcing Tristan to journey back to Alke with the help of the trickster god Anansi to rescue her.
Arriving back in Alke brings Tristan in contact with his friend Ayanna and new characters like Keelboat Annie, but the world he returns to is in turmoil. Gods like John Henry are fading away, High John is gone, and everyone seems to be arguing. The threat of the Shamble Man has crippled the strength of Alke and sent everyone into a panic. It’s up to Tristan, Ayanna, Gum Baby, and an assortment of new characters like Keelboat Annie, and Mami Wata to solve the crisis in Alke.
One of the great joys for the last two years has been reading the varied literature that has come out of the Rick Riordan Presents banner at Disney Publishing. Riordan has used his fame to help create a space that allows authors to write their own cultural stories under this label. Each time a new book is released there is a new story to discover. Kwame Mbalia has moved the reader with his wicked sense of humor and the depth of character development he has created in the Tristan Strong series. Tristan Strong Destroys the World is yet again another blockbuster book that though geared to middle graders should be read by everyone.
The overall theme of Tristan Strong Destroys the World is trauma. How does one continue to live after they have experienced trauma? Through Mbalia’s powerful prose, readers journey with Tristan as he navigates a difficult landscape. What is trauma? For Tristan seeing the death of his friend is his trauma, and as he has been told on many occasions by his counselor and his Nana, trauma can rear its ugly head for years after an event has taken place. Tristan may accept the death of his friend, he may even be able to move on from losing his friend, but the accident that claimed Eddie’s life will always be a part of Tristan and it has left a lasting impact on him.
While Tristan is dealing with his own growth, he must come face to face with the trauma that was caused in Alke when he punched a hole in the sky. By smashing a bottle on the bottle tree at his grandparent’s farm, Tristan set forth a set of consequences that would forever leave a mark on the people and gods of Alke. His actions have lasting consequences for characters including Brer Bear.
The diaspora theme that Anansi talks about and ultimately Tristan adopts for the people of Alke is a contemporary theme that all readers should connect with. Mbalia’s books have been about the power of the story and how as storytellers we have the power to keep the mythological heroes alive. Tristan is a fantastical storyteller thanks in part to his Nana, and now his ultimate power is the ability to continue the legend of folklore heroes. Diaspora means the dispersion of people from their homeland. When a group of people is dispersed from their homeland, it is the stories of the culture that help bind people together.
Mbalia takes great care to illustrate throughout the book that a story does not need to be a long-detailed narrative. It could be someone’s name and a few details about them. The threads of these small stories stitched together help to bring together cultural history. Mbalia has probably done for more bridging the gap of historical text about the issues of the loss of culture and how slavery has ripped a culture and history from people. This diaspora feeling continues for many today.
Tristan Strong Destroys the World is a brilliant book in a series that will engage young readers about the moral ethics of slavery, make them question and wonder how they too can connect with their culture through the power of storytelling and wish to learn more about heroes like High John, John Henry, Keelboat Annie and others.
Readers will laugh as Gum Baby insults Tristan, and cheer as he works with the teenager to save the day. Everyone will wish that Tristan’s Nana is their Nana, and readers of all ages will learn the truth about Tristan Strong. The future is written by the actions of kids. Kids will decide what is remembered and what is forgotten, and when children are engaged in storytelling, they are the ones who keep our culture together.
Kwame Mbalia makes his titles literal, and Tristan Strong Destroys the World will not disappoint. Be warned, you will come out smarter for reading this book and heartbroken at the amount of guilt and trauma that a young black teenager must endure in today’s world.
Tristan Strong Destroys the World is a four-star book. It stands alone for its humor, the moral lesson of being able to move on in the face of trauma and shines alight of what our world still needs to do to rectify the problems of our history.