In the last several months, I’ve had the opportunity to read many novels in the Rick Riordan mythological canon, including the entirety of the Tristan Strong series by Kwame Mbalia. From the first installment—which brought tales I learned as a child back to the forefront of my mind while introducing me to new characters I didn’t already know—I recognized the importance of this series. Now, having just finished the final story, Tristan Strong Keeps Punching, I am even more thrilled to share this series with you.
This final installment in the Tristan Strong series begins about two weeks after the conclusion of book two, and Tristan finds himself joining extended family in New Orleans for a family reunion. With his Story Box Phone in his hand, Tristan is actively searching for those displaced by the events at the end of the previous story while balancing tours of New Orleans and meals with his family. When a mysterious stranger named Seraphine tells him of danger lurking nearby that only they can address, he finds himself on a riveting adventure to rescue his friends and preserve their stories. Please see my full review here.
Kwame Mbalia expertly weaves stories from African American culture and folklore into a gripping adventure novel for middle grade readers. While the first two installments have taken Tristan away from the world he has always known and into the land of Alke, this third novel brings the action closer to home. Combining familiar characters from the previous stories with Tristan’s path to self-discovery, this narrative deepens the message of the importance of stories while inspiring each reader to tell stories of their own. As the events unfold, Tristan repeats the mantra that stories keep the gods alive, and telling those stories is paramount to sustaining the lifeblood of the world.
Political undercurrents are found throughout the narrative, including some of the more challenging conversations that come with racial ignorance and the oppression of Black people throughout American history. King Cotton has amassed a collection of human aides who reflect many recognizable personality traits of those who harbor deep seated biases against Black people. This inclusion gives readers a view of how judgemental behavior affects others both inside and outside of Tristan’s story. Additionally, Tristan often wonders why the stories he uncovers throughout this novel are not important enough to be told in school or elsewhere; many of the unsavory parts of American history have been sanitized, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. I recognize that many of the events discussed in these books were never taught in my own history classes, and I’m grateful for this springboard to learn more about them.
Stories are the most important part of human history, having been told throughout time to remember those who have been lost, celebrate moments of strength, or prevent past ills from recurring.
Black Lives Matter. Black stories matter.
Through this series, Tristan reminds all of us of our responsibility to continue telling these stories, even if they are painful, because these tales are intrinsic to the fabric of our human existence. This third installment of Tristan Strong’s adventure presents Tristan’s internal growth alongside the tales of those who came before, weaving a tapestry of important messages into a gripping narrative. I highly recommend Tristan Strong to readers of all ages.
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