BOOK REVIEWS

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

UPDATE TIME: 2019-05-31 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 11 user ratings
ISBN:1368022820
LANGUAGE:English

"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***
" said.

"I was super psyched to get an early read of yet another book from the new Rick Riordan Presents Imprint Series. This story is a little different than most of the mythology-based storylines that I’ve come to expect from this publisher. It’s Snark, Science, and Spanglish- that’s how I sold it to my own 13 yo kid.

I loved it so much that I talked him into reading my Kindle copy. I mean I was reading funny parts aloud at the table, in the car waiting for his brother, really everywhere cause once I started reading it, I didn’t want it to end while still powering through getting closer to the end. It’s that way with all great books though, isn’t it?

My favorite quote: "Sometimes, when it's too hard, when it hurts too much, only silliness can save us."

So, true.

In this novel, Sal and Gabi deal with some substantial, real-life issues and handle it like the most polite well-mannered thirteen years I’ve ever read about. Sal lost his Mom and has diabetes and Gabi’s little brother is very ill. Not to mention the fact that Sal accidentally broke the universe.

This is one of those rare books that straddle the MG category. I think eight through thirteen-year-old kids will all get something out of this storyline. Even older since I’m buying it for a possible re-read and because we’re going to want to own the series. We also need to eat more Cuban food- just saying.

Also, homeschoolers: you need to explain that this is a fictional school cause it sounds fantastic.

Please note that I received a free advance E ARC of this book from NetGalley without a review requirement or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that, I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.
" said.

"I loved this book so much! I think it is safe to say, even with it being the beginning of March, that this book is going to go down as one of my favorites of the year!

Sal and Gabi are both amazing characters. I felt a particular fondness for Sal, since I am a diabetic also. Even though Sal is a Type 1 Diabetic and I'm a Type 2, it was nice to see some diabetic representation in this book. Sal and Gabi are both amazing role models. We could all learn a little something from them.

One of my favorite quotes from this book was, "Emotional literally changes your eyesight. I would have to remember that."

This book was such a nice surprise in so many ways. There were so many things that I loved about this book:
*I found myself laughing out loud numerous times.
*I never would have imagined that the bully we met at the beginning of the book would be one of the many characters I loved by the end of the book.
*The teenagers in this story are all dealing with very real real-life issues that were all handled very well.
*Culeco Academy of the Arts, the school in this book, was absolutely amazing! The teachers, the classes, even detention! There needs to be schools like this all over the country!
*I love the diversity and representation in this book. One of my favorite aspects was all of the Gabi Dads.
*Speaking of the Gabi Dads, the adults in this book were pretty amazing too. They were so supportive and loving. Papi, American Stepmom, and Mrs. Reál were my favorites.
*I love the Cuban culture!

My heart is so full after reading this book and I am already looking forward to the next one!

*I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
" said.

"My 5th and 6th grade boys voluntarily gave up screen time in order to keep reading this book. If that doesn't sell it, I don't know what will.

Hernandez has created a snappy plot that clips right along with a clever protagonist who's emotionally intelligent and genuinely loves the people in his life in a way that doesn't usually show up in middle grade. He buys the believability of that protagonist (Sal) with two key pieces of backstory: First, Sal's Mami died several years prior to the opening of the novel, and that loss functions as a sort of moral and emotional compass for him. Second, Sal has Type 1 Diabetes, which means he's seen his share of emergency rooms--and what they do to his family--experiences that have given him a profoundly compassionate streak. 

The magic in the book, science-y though it is, doesn't get introduced right away, something that might throw some readers. From a craft perspective, I suspect that move was a nod to magical realism, a tradition that the Cuban-American author (and cast) are both invoking and subverting. And, for what it's worth, this cast is as authentically Cuban-American as I have ever seen on the page. Hernandez introduces some elements of culture for non-Cuban readers, but also just lets some of it exist and expects his audience to get on board--a move that works because he's earned our trust and admiration so profoundly.

...and I haven't even mentioned Gabi, who is every inch HERSELF in this remarkable story, a Hermione-ish character who gets full credit both from the author and from everyone else in the story, including Sal.

...or the remarkably fine handling of details around blended families, Yasmany's family, schools/teachers, and the arts. It is SUCH a world. A wonderful world. I cannot wait to go back to it.

If this is the kind of book that the new Rick Riordan imprint is going to produce, then I say it's about time we get more of them. Bravo.

Post Script: Those boys who gave up screen time to read this book? They hadn’t been reading for a few months. One of them had told me he figured he had “already read all the good books that were out there.” But when they finished reading Sal and Gabi, they immediately dug out the Harry Potter series and started re-reading it. This book reminded them of what a good book can be. Thank you, Carlos Hernandez.
" said.

"​Interest Level: 3-6

Imagine that you could go back in time to change anything you wanted. Now imagine that go into a different universe to change, swap, or bring people and things to your universe. Sounds crazy, right? Well, Sal is a special kind of kid who can "break" the universe to do all of those things. Sal is the new kid in town and in his first week of school he has been sent to the principal's office too many times to count. And to make things worse, he gets into a beef with the school bully, Yasmany, all because Sal tried to help him. The thing is, Sal is a magician and to keep from getting beat up he does a "magic trick" and pulls a dead chicken from another universe and places it in Yasmany's locker. This lands him in the principal's office again and causes everyone in school to think he practices black magic. Not the best start at his new school. However, thanks to his wit and charm he turns things around and makes some of the best friends he has ever had. The problem is, every time he changes or brings something from a different universe it causes all kinds of problems, including bringing back his deceased mom. Can Sal fix all of the problems he has caused? Can he learn to control his actions so that he will stop causing holes in the universe? Just as he thinks he has control over it Gabi, his new best friend, asks him to help with her sick baby brother. Should Sal and Gabi mess with the universe again or are they going too far? Read this incredible book to go through all of Sal and Gabi's adventures and see if they continue to "break the universe".

When I say you have to read this book, I mean you HAVE to read this book!! I loved every minute that I spent with Sal and Gabi. They are two of the coolest kids I have ever met and I would love to just spend one day at school with them. You will also need some Kleenex, not for being sad, but because you will cry with laughter. Sal has the best sense of humor, and him and Gabi together will have your rolling. They also have the coolest school ever! I would love to be their librarian for a day! If you can't tell, I absolutely LOVED this book and I can not wait for book two! Run, don't walk, on the fifth of March to get this book! You will not regret it!!!
" said.

"This book just never let up in action! Sal is such a lovely boy: I wish I had known him in middle school, which is the setting for this story. Heck I wish I had known him in college! Sal is a diabetic boy (I'm hoping this might get the Schneider Award) and new to this magnet school and to Miami. So of course the bullies just gravitate to him. Unfortunately for them, Sal is more than ready for them. Or rather, him, Yasmany. Sal is also a magician. The question is going to be, is Culeco Academy ready for Sal? Culeco is a magnet school for the arts. It takes any of the arts: musicians, dancers, performers...and apparently, magicians, although Sal is the first magician at the school. There are a number of fascinating characters including Mami Muerta/Viva and Gabi's innumerable Dads. I missed something about the Dads, will definitely need to reread this one! In any case how Sal and Gabi break the Universe is complicated. VERY complicated. But it involves Iggy, Gabi's baby brother who is sick. And it involves Sal's Mami who used to be Viva but is now Muerta. BTW this is a great book to learn your Cuban Spanish. There really is not a single character who is unlikable in this book. Well, one but Yasmany's Mom never gets more than mentioned. That might be one of my only criticisms of the book: Yasmany is presented as a bully because of unmentioned actions presumably of his mother. This is a phase in current society that I wish would pass: the concept that no one is really bad, they are acting out bad things that happened to them, including mental illness. Sorry but I believe there are people who are just plain mean and should be treated as such. I agree that Yasmany, as presented, may be a potentially nice kid if he only got a break. But I do think there is such a critter as a really bad person, because they are amoral and in life only for themselves. OK, back to the story. It is lovely that there are vice principals and principals in this story that are presented as caring educators, since they are a group of people that tend to be the bad guys in stories. As Riordan says in his introduction: "You know how I can tell when a book is great? When I can't even describe it to you without ruining the marvelous surprises." There really isn't anything more I can write without explaining things that shouldn't be mentioned because of spoilers. This book is wild. I actually wondered at one point if the author was on something when writing this but it is too complicated with too many points that link up to other points in the story for a person on drugs to manage to keep straight! Just know that the action is pretty much nonstop, and there is not one logical place to put the book down so you can do things like sleep. I cannot wait for the next book! Phew, baby!" said.

"So I had mixed feelings on this book.

On the one hand, it was AMAZING in terms of diverse, unique characters and settings. Sal is a diabetic, Cuban-American middle-schooler/full time magician, who also happens to have the power to reach across parallel universes and switch things around. Gabi is a popular, smart-alecky Cuban-American girl (in this book, different from Sal in that she doesn't know much Spanish) who is both student council president and school reporter.

The topics in this story are also really unique. It deals with things like type-1 diabetes and how that affects your life, grief and loss (Sal lost his mother at a young age and Gabi's month-old baby brother is in the NCIU), abusive households, and more. I've never read a middle-grade fiction book that dealt with such heavy issues and I think it's great that it'll be a conversation starter for such things.

Sal is really funny and sassy though. The first-person narration keeps the story light-hearted for the most part. We're also immersed into a lot of Cuban culture, slang, and food. Culeco Academy, their arts school and their daily routines were set up really well too. All that description was wonderful. Carlos Hernandez nailed the world-building here.

That being said, plot-wise, the story was a little all over the place. Just when I think "ok, this is their goal," it switches into some other problem. It's mentioned that Sal dreams of (view spoiler)" said.

"'Sometimes, when it's too hard, when it hurts too much, only silliness can save us. And I'm all about doing whatever it takes to help people make it to tomorrow.'

Sal & Gabi Break The Universe follows the perspective of Sal, a Cuban 13-year-old boy with diabetes who just moved to Miami from Connecticut. He enjoys doing magic, which he started doing to help cope with the death of his mother.
On his second day of school, a bully taunts him. Sal thought of the best way to get his bully back: put a raw chicken in the bullies locker... with magic!
During his first week of the school, his new friend Gabi and him find out they both have something in common. Something that if not controlled, can break the universe.

The Plot:
I enjoyed the plot, even though I'm still a little confused as to how Sal can do what he does in regards to "magic" (It'll be a spoiler if I explain, sorry!). I did remove a star for that, yet I found out that there is a sequel so I'm assuming it be explained.
I enjoyed the atmosphere so much! I am Cuban and lived in Miami until I was 12, so it was so easy for me to see myself in this world and hanging out with Sal and Gabi.
The plot takes place in a week, yet there's so much that happens in this time that it doesn't feel short.
The majority of the story takes place in their amazing school! I forget how much I enjoy school settings, especially Art schools. It's like fulfilling my dreams when I went to school.

The Characters:
I adored every single character in this story! Sal was such a little sassy yet mature character to follow. If Hermione had a younger sibling, Gabi would be she.
The family dynamic for both characters is so amazing and positive. They're so loving and caring and supportive, they made my heart hurt with all of the swelling that occurred.
I also really appreciated the Principle of the school. She was like a second mom to every single kid that went to that school, did everything she could to help them thrive and be the best version of themselves they could be.

The Writing:
Although this book is a Middle Grade novel, I would forget. The writing is perfect for all ages, in my opinion. The kids weren't written immaturely, so it was nice not pulling my hairs trying so hard to keep the 'mom' in me closed shut.
Also, the author did a fantastic job at painting the picture of each scene. It was so vivid and it did feel like I was in the story, as well.
I also loved that many topics were brought up. For example, the school has gender neutral bathrooms. It is talked about in such a nonchalant way, there was never a point where it was questioned or treated like a 'weird' thing that 'children wouldn't understand'. Also, gender stereotypes were challenged in a few conversations, but mostly with Sal and the bully from the beginning of the novel. I think, as well, that one of Gabi's "dad's" is Trans.
I really appreciate this because adults always like to use the excuse of 'kids don't understand these things!" yet we all know that's not true. Children understand way more than what we give them credit for and we need to start acknowledging that.
As I mentioned in the short summary in the beginning of my review, Sal is Cuban and they live in Miami. There was a lot of bilingual lines and Cuban lingo involved in the story. I am so grateful for that! This story makes us Cuban American bilinguals seen, how could I not be grateful for that?

Overall:
I will be giving this book to my cousin in law. She is an English teach of sorts and I really do thing that this will be an amazing read for her class since they are in this age range. I think that this is a story that anyone at any age can enjoy. If you like magic, you'll definitely enjoy it.
This is an own-voices story. So if that's something you take into account, you can add this to your list for a nice read.
I went back and forth between the audiobook and the ARC I won on Twitter. The narrator did an amazing job!
Even though there was not 'solution' or 'answer' to their question in how Sal can do what he does, I really enjoyed my time with this story. I recommend it to everyone!!

4 STARS
" said.

June 2019 New Book:

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