Carlos Hernandez's SAL AND GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE - A Magician with a Special Trick
Updated: Jan 16
by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
When I was scanning the TBR tag I've made on my Libby app (another feature I plan to use more actively this year as I work on being more strategic about my upcoming book selection - see more about that here...), I came across Carlos Hernandez's Sal and Gabi Break the Universe (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm), which is a middle grade book in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. I remember Sara talking about this one way back in episode 170, and I wanted to read it since I heard her talk about it.
By the way, imprints were still pretty new to me when we included them on our Unabridged Reading Challenge in 2021. (Have you joined us for our 2023 Reading Challenge yet? Get the details here.) If you want to learn more about imprints, check out Jen's Bookish Fave from March of 2021 for more information and for recommendations of some imprints to check out.
But back to the book... In this story, Sal is starting at a specialized school focused on the arts. His specialty? Magic. He can do amazing magic tricks that leave the audience bewildered and impressed, and he's excited to improve his craft. Sal realizes almost immediately that a big difference at his new school is the fact that the students (and teachers) love it there and are enthusiastic about their learning. Sal also wants to blend in and make friends. However, sometimes his determination to perform and to push himself collides with the maintenance of his type 1 diabetes, a condition that he quickly learns is not well understood at his new school (by the students or the teachers, which leads to some sticky situations!). After spending way too much of his first week there in the principal's office, Sal feels pretty stressed.
"Fear is your body trying to tell your brain what to do. But the brain is the king of the body. It calls the shots."
In an effort to get himself out of one of the sticky situations Sal finds himself in as the book begins, he performs a magic trick. The main trick that the audience can't see? Sal has the unique ability to reach into parallel universes and pull out things that he can utilize to perform his magic tricks. Both impressive and out of this world, Sal's first trick draws the attention of Gabi, a student leader who also edits the school newspaper. Gabi is determined to figure out how Sal performed the trick, and she plans to tell her readers all about it.
Meanwhile, each time Sal reaches into other universes, he impacts the fabric of our universe, which he neither fully understands nor knows how to fix. Additionally, Sal doesn't always conjure things from other universes on purpose. At times when he is particularly stressed, things (and people!) from other universes simply appear, wreaking havoc until the situation passes.
There is never a dull moment in this book, and many parts are laugh-out-loud funny, but both Sal and Gabi are facing some very serious circumstances and heavy burdens that resonate despite the light tone of the book.
I absolutely loved Sal's endlessly kind and compassionate nature and the way that he seeks to love and help others no matter how hard that is at times, and I appreciated the way that Hernandez developed such rich, complex characters who desire to do good in the world. This one is an outstanding book, and I'm eager to continue the series.
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