Title: Sal & Gabi break the universe |Author: Carlos Hernandez | Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents |Series: Sal & Gabi #1 | Genre: Middlegrade | 400 pages
Listen, I did not plan on reading this book. It just kinda happened? Anyway, I’m really glad that I did. It surely helped me out of a reading slump.
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.
I have a lot to say about this book. A lot. There are so many good things that I don’t really know where to start yet and also some points that left me a little disstatisfied. But about those more later.
“Sal & Gabi break the Universe” was legit hilarious. I enjoyed myself so much while reading and I even annotated some rather smart and insightful passages which is something I don’t do often. I felt so comfortable with the writing style that I basically flew through this book.
Sal just moved to Miami with his father and this stepmom and has already been in the office of his new school’s principle three times. Most of that has to do with him having type 1 diabetes but also troubles with teachers and a bully. Sal is a overall bright and happy kid that has some troubles and a very special skill – he can tap into other universes and bring things (and people) from other parts of the multiverse into his universe. Sounds pretty cool, right?
Of course this comes with heaps of complications that are sometimes hilarious and sometimes all the way devastating.
Besides Sal who narrates this book, Sal and Gabi is full of interesting characters: from his new friend Gabi and her crazy family over the bully Yasmani to his dad and his stepmom to his different teachers and the principal down to the school itself which seems like its own character.
I liked Sal, he was a great narrator, funny but also full of insight and rather relatable. I liked to learn about Type 1 diabetes from him and I felt like he had a lot to say and also had gone through a lot. Sometimes there were parts where I felt that he was kind of manipulative, knowing exactly what buttons to push to get himself out of trouble. It was interesting to see but also a little worrisome. I was a little concerned about what a child reading this might learn from it but also fascinated. At some points I felt like he was acting more like what a grownup would like to see in a kid or like a grownup would think that a kid could behave. However, those were just passing thoughts I had and it didn’t diminish the joy I felt when reading this book.
Sal’s new friend Gabi was a little overbearing but that also made her charming. That girl has much too much energy which probably could get annoying. That’s for Sal and you to decide.
The whole atomosphere of this book is crazy and quirky and funny and amazing which some serious feels mashed into it. It deals with loss and sickness, disability and death. Be prepared for that when you pick this book up. It’s dealt with in a very good fashion though.
There are a few things that threw me off though: With this book being a “Rick Riordan presents” book I actually expected there to be more myths and mythology in there. While there is some explaining of Cuban culture, the mythology was missing and that was just a shame. The book is, however, more of a science fiction than a fantasy book. Of course, loving both, that didn’t bother me that much. (At some point, even AI and fully functioning robots were introduced which threw me off a little and I’m still not sure if they were just messing with Sal or if it was the real deal.)
On a different note though, while this book is called “Sal & Gabi break the universe” there was actually not really any breaking of the universe happening. There were a lot of rifts and rips and stuff but while I felt that the writing was fluid and I got ahead nicely, I also felt like this book was more like a prelude and was more to set up something bigger than an acutal big story. It’s definitely more character driven than plot driven.
All in all, “Sal and Gabi break the universe” is a great and hilarious book with great disability rep that deals not only with said disability but also with grief, loss and illness. The writing is fluid and I just flew though that book, falling in love with the characters, the setting and Carlos Hernandez’ idea of multiverse manipulation. I would definitely recommend and I hope that there will be more universe breaking happening in the next book.