I have got to be honest. I'm giving the book 5 stars, with the caveat that I had a really difficult time getting into it.
The main character, Tristan Strong, starts off with feelings of letting down his grandfather in his first boxing match. Now, the boy is a tween, and I was a middle school teacher. I unfortunately saw first-hand what concussions can do to a student. I had one student who received three concussions over the course of two years, and it totally changed his personality, impacted his academic abilities (yes, abilities -- he was not the same after the third) and not for the good.
So I struggled to connect with Tristan's concerns about letting down his grandfather in the ring. I felt like cheering for him to quit, instead. I also had really mixed emotions about him using those boxing "skills" later on to fight -- fetterlings, animated chains and manacles, but nonetheless, every swing, every punch represented a chance that Tristan was going to get hit in the head, and ...I didn't want to read it. Images of Mohammed Ali later in life, when he was struggling with Parkinsons disease, along with recent publicity how multiple concussions contribute to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), were never far from my mind as I read this story.
Until about half way through. By then, I was finally able to "get into" the story world of African-American folklore characters, such as Gum Baby, Brer Rabbit, John Henry (wonderful to read!) and Anansi, sufficiently to enjoy the story. I had to get far enough away from the boxing link and trust the author wasn't going to KO Tristan, for literary emotional impact, for me to be able to enjoy the story.
It is also quite long -- 482 pages -- which we LOVED! My daughter and I read it. We love it when publishers take chances on long stories, because once we're into a story, the worst thing is to have to leave it -- leave the characters we've come to love, the setting we've lost ourselves in, as the whole thing comes to an end in a measly 289 pages. Sometimes it hardly seems worth it. We wish they'd let ALL authors indulge their characters / stories like this!
This was overall a great read. I'm looking forward to Tristan developing his story punches in future tales.
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