Sal and Gabi Break the Universe (A Sal and Gabi Novel, Book 1) Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2019-04-12 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 11 user ratings

"You know that feeling when you read a completely brilliant, hysterical, heartbreaking book and it ends and you're just SO RELIEVED that it's part of a series so don't have to say goodbye permanently to the characters or the world? That's how you'll feel when you finish Carlos Hernandez's SAL AND GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE, and (if you're an adult like me) you'll also probably feel a bit jealous that you didn't have this book when you were in middle school. It's so fantastic.

Sal is a Cuban-American magician who accidentally-on-purpose maybe-breaks the universe on his first day at his new Miami middle school. (A raw chicken from an alternate universe is involved, and it's as disgusting and delightful as it sounds.) Sal meets and quickly befriends Gabi, a brilliant and fierce student journalist with an unconventional family, and together they try to figure out a way to fix the universe and help a few friends. Both Sal and Gabi have their own personal pain—Sal lost his mom a few years ago, and Gabi's newborn brother is really sick—and the book gently deals with these issues while also delivering on plenty of belly laughs, a fart joke or two and a couple super awesome robots.

This book is delightfully diverse, portraying many different kinds of families (even a female robot dad; just trust me, you'll love her); richly developed characters with many ethnic backgrounds; and a hero with Type 1 diabetes. Also, if that isn't enough, the book takes place at the coolest school I've encountered since Hogwarts, where teachers dress in costumes, detention is fun and differences are celebrated. Really, there's just too much good in this book to even describe. It's billed as middle grade, but really it's a novel that all ages will devour and adore.
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"Sal is new to Culeco, a school for the performing arts in Miami, having moved there with his Papi and American Stepmom after his Mami Muerta (the spirit of his mother, who is deceased) kept appearing in their home! He runs afoul of Yasmany, whose locker is next to his, but saves his own skin when the boy bullies him by having a dead chicken appear in Yasmany's locker, but then all traces of it disappear. Gabi is a friend of Yasmany's, but she and Sal hit it off. It turns out that there really was a chicken, but Sal brought it through a wormhole in a locker, and when it returned to its own dimension, all traces of it are gone. When his Mami Muerta appears again, his father (a scientist) tries to find a way to make her not return. He installs an enormous remembranation machine and tries to keep track of the calamatrons that are being left in our dimensional plane by things from other planes. Gabi has a newborn brother, Iggy, who is very sick and has spent the entire month of his life in the hospital, and Gabi wonders how Sal's powers might be used to help him. Sal has Type 1 diabetes, and occasionally has issues with it, but is good about checking his levels and is well versed in how to deal with light headedness and other symptoms. Yasmany is having troubles at home, which make him act out at school. When it looks like Iggy might not make it, Sal and Gabi try to increase their research, deal with their families, and stay out of trouble at school.

Strengths: I really liked the fact that the diabetes was just one factor with which Sal had to deal, and it was depicted realistically and without drama. The Cuban cultural connections are interesting, with lots of descriptions of food, relatives, and some Spanish language phrases. Sal and Gabi are both rather fun and likable characters, and I loved how supportive American Stepmom was. While most of the Rick Riordan Presents has some sort of mythology included, this is more of a science fantasy with Cuban culture, which was a nice innovation.

Weaknesses: There's a LOT going on in this 400 page book, and some of it is not well explained. I never felt very sure about what Sal's father was trying to accomplish, or about how Sal brought things from other universes. Gabi has a lot of "dads" with really odd names (e.g. Grizzly Dad'ums), and that was never made clear, nor was the existence of a robot/android character. The plot is a bit hard to discern with all of these wacky goings-on.

What I really think: If this were going to be a stand alone, I might buy it, but Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe is due in March 2020. Since I can't get anyone to check out the very similar Margot and Mateo Save the World by Darcy Miller, I think I will pass on purchasing.
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"I really enjoyed this book. Sal was such a fun main character to follow. I think he is a good role model for younger kids. He has a sense of self-awareness that even though he is 13 and is supposed to be the "moody teenager", he never acts like it. His relationships with his peers and the adults in his life is one of mutual respect. He is always trying to do the right thing. I especially loved the relationship with his parents. Sal's father and stepmom are understanding of his ability to "break the universe" and don't treat him in a way that makes him feel like he doesn't belong. He and his stepmom get along great. I loved that it didn't feature the trope of "evil stepmom" or "stepmom who hates kids." It was refreshing to see the bond between her, Sal, and the dad. Sal's drive to try to help in any way he can was inspiring. From bonding with Gabi's family during a difficult time, to becoming friends with a boy who bullied him at school, he wants to do the right thing. This book is funny, but it also tackles some difficult things like grief and terminal illness. The reason I only gave it four stars was that the ending wrapped up sooooo quickly. We spent a good chunk of the book dealing with a heavy subject only to have it wrapped up in a couple of sentences with no reactions from any of the characters. I wish there could have been a bit more explanation of the aftermath. All in all, this is a great middle grade read with diverse characters, hints of magic, and great friendships. " said.

"Sal and Gabi is not just another great story. This story is a science fiction adventure with just the right voice that fans of Percy Jackson enjoy. Sal has struggled with his mom’s death for many years, bringing her back from an alternate universe without know how he does it. Sal loves magic, showmanship, and his new school. He uses his magic throughout his day at school sometimes with bad results that land him in the principal’s office. Ask Yasmany, the school bully, and Gabi about that. As Sal, with his dad and American stepmom’s help, tries to figure out how to close the holes in the universe he might just find a way to live with all the multiverses. This story has plenty of humor and heart and would appeal to all middle grade readers. " said.

" Okay this is the only book so far from Rick's imprint that doesnt include mythology. It is sci fi and revolves around calamity physics and multiverses. I loved the humor, i loved the writing, i loved the characters and i loved the plot. Cant wait for book 2. Only have a few questions but im sure they will be answered in book 2. " said.

"This was such a fun book! Carlos Hernandez made such an excellent story, with a lot of depth, magic, and heart. I loved that the main characters were Cuban. Being a white girl, growing up in a predominately white society, I didn't get exposed to very many unique cultures. This showed all the beauty and fun and care that Cuban families have. It shared the culture in such an accessible way. I loved that. And the bilingual aspect! And how not every Cuban-American fits the stereotypes! The characters were fun too. I've never read a character like Sal before. His sass and joy of life are so great. Gabi is sweet and quirky and just so so much fun. Yasmany's character development and the lessons learned through his story are so important. Principal Tores (not sure on spelling; I listened to the book) is such an icon and role model. This book is perfect for middle schoolers who need representation of their culture! And middle schoolers in general.
The only thing missing is more about calamity physics. But that's because I'm a science nerd adult. That isn't the point of the story at all. I just love world building, especially when weird science is involved. :D
Also, the audiobook narrator does an excellent job. Audiobooks for the win!
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"I am not the kind of audience this book was written for. It was written for middle-school students. I cleared middle school over ten years ago. So it isn't surprising that I could relate more to the author of the book than its characters. Culeco Academy is THE Dream school for all nerds out there (including me). It is a school that actually encourages creativity and where teachers are always supportive. It's a school where you get to put on a mask and jump around in class. It's a school where detention is a fun place all students want to go to. It's a school I wish I could attend.
I like the characters too - a diabetic boy, the school's student council president, a bully from an abusive household, a physicist, and an assistant school principal are not your average protagonists. What I didn't like however is how happy everyone is - all the time - and how quick the resolution was. I missed the conflict, the sense of tension, as our heroes battle all odds to win the day. The message of the book is: 'the universe loves you and wants to help you'. I am too cynical an adult to appreciate that, but maybe it's the kind of message children nowadays need. Also, every second line is in Spanish, which adds a note of authenticity to the tale, but makes it hard for non-Cuban, non-Spanish speakers like me to understand the dialogues, si?
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"This is a very character-centric book, and the characters are wonderful! It's hard not to fall in love with Sal, an exceptionally emotionally precocious child, despite the fact that he's still trying to recover from the loss of his mother when he was a young child. He's also a practiced magician, and his magic adds a playful element to the book. Then there's Gabi, who's precocious in an entirely different way--she could win any debate with her logical mind and incredible intelligence. The book explores themes of love and loss and deep friendship.

My only complaint is that it's a bit light on plot, especially for a middle grade--I kept waiting for Sal and Gabi to ... break the universe or something. The title is deceiving because nothing bad ever really happens because of Sal's gift with multi-verses and he doesn't do all that much with his gift until the very end of the book (which was excellent and emotionally compelling). Also, the setting was a bit jarring (at 50% in there were suddenly androids and I was really thrown--wait, is this set in the future? I'm still not quite clear.) Still, there were lots of positives: great messages, tons of Cuban-American culture, a diabetic main character who helped us see what living with that condition is like. So, it will be a definite win if kids will stick it out.

***Disclosure: This book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given. All opinions are my own***
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April 2019 New Book:

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