I read quite a bit of YA and middle grade fiction. Why? Well, I have kids, and I have kids who still (sometimes, if I’m lucky) let me read to them, and sometimes I read “their” books because they look good, and sometimes I just read books because I don’t really care if something is tagged YA, or middle grade or whatever else.
But enough about me.
I read Sal & Gabi Break the Universe because the book sounded awesome, and I received and Advance Reading Copy, and I am here to tell you that I loved it. It’s tagged as middle grade, but if you have a sense of humour, if you like Hitchhiker’s Guide, and if you want to read something that is sort of like that, except in a modern day school setting… then you can read and hugely enjoy this book no matter what age you are.
First of all, the official book-blurb:
How did a raw chicken get inside Yasmany’s locker? When Sal Vidon meets Gabi Real for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow, Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared. Sal prides himself on being an excellent magician, but for this sleight of hand, he relied on a talent no one would guess . . . except maybe Gabi, whose sharp eyes never miss a trick. When Gabi learns that he’s capable of conjuring things much bigger than a chicken–including his dead mother–and she takes it all in stride, Sal knows that she is someone he can work with. There’s only one slight problem: their manipulation of time and space could put the entire universe at risk. A sassy entropy sweeper, a documentary about wedgies, a principal who wears a Venetian bauta mask, and heaping platefuls of Cuban food are just some of the delights that await in his mind-blowing novel gift-wrapped in love and laughter.
I mean… right? Does it sound nuts? Because it is. It is totally nuts and totally fabulous.
Sal and Gabi are two kids who meet, who find themselves (sort of) at odds initially, and then become fast friends (but not in a sappy way, more like the real way, where you goof around with friends and get on each other’s nerves sometimes, and then you end up belly-laughing about it).
And yeah, Sal and Gabi sort of break (or at least poke a lot of holes) in the universe in this book (Sal’s been doing it for a while before he meets Gabi, but it turns out it’s more problematic than he thought, and yeah, he should probably fix it. And he tries! And Gabi tries to help him, but there are some unintended consequences along the way.
Sal & Gabi Break the Universe is funny, sharp, smart, and full of magic, science, food, friendship, family, life, love, and even death, and Hernandez keeps the story moving at a great pace throughout. It’s a zany book, but there’s real heart in it, too, and the laughs are good laughs – with jokes that are irreverent, hilarious, and thoughtful in a way that I really appreciated as I read the story.
I love so many things about this book. I love how it deals with serious issues: sickness, disease, loss, grief, death, without ever losing it’s sense of heart and humour. It’s like real life, complex and full of crappy, difficult stuff, but you can get through it better if you find a way to, at least occasionally, laugh at the things trying to bring you down.
I also love how this book treats the kids like they are real people, complex and flawed as well as funny and charming. Hernandez never talks down to kids, and the story is never patronizing or maudlin’, and it never sugarcoats anything. Sal and Gabi deal with real problems (in addition to their travails with the alternate universes) – navigating troubles with friends and foes at school, living with diabetes, losing a parent, having a baby brother in the NICU, and helping a friend who he is being abused at home – and the story allows them to deal with all of that in a real, down-to-earth, non-sappy way.
The ending is five-star fantastic, and sets things up for one heck of a sequel (I can’t wait to read it).
I’d recommend this book for kids ages 8 and up, and as an adult, I found it hugely entertaining as well.
Sal & Gabi Break the Universe is published by Rick Riordan Presents. I received an ARC for review purposes.