Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez. Rick Riordan Presents/Disney Hyperion, 2019.
The story starts with the raw chicken in the locker. Sal put it there, to get bully Yasmany off his case in hopes of making it through the hallways with his diabetes gear intact.
They both end up in the office. Sal is talking the principal out of being mad at him when a girl with curly hair and barrettes with personality of their own shows up, claiming to be Yasmany’s lawyer. She’s Gabi, and even though they’re on opposite sides of this particular conflict, Sal figures out pretty quickly that she’s a good person to have on his side.
Sal has problems beyond Yasmany, including just having moved to Florida and starting at a new school that doesn’t have experience dealing with a kid with Type 1 Diabetes. But Sal, his Papi and American Stepmom moved to Florida because of Sal’s difficulties accidentally pulling things and people through from other dimensions. Sal’s trained himself to be really good at traditional magic tricks, but sometimes slips up with the things from other dimensions (the chicken in the locker, though? that was deliberate.)
This is from the new Rick Riordan Presents imprint, but doesn’t follow the formula. I kept waiting for Sal and Gabi’s problems to get to the epic scale of a classic Rick Riordan, but it never does. Somehow, this really worked for me. We have two kids full of personality, lots of delicious Cuban food, an impossible climbing wall in the school gym, and problems that include a dead mother on Sal’s side and a baby brother in intensive care on Gabi’s. I think it was this more personal focus that kept the story working so well for me, despite the fast pace.
I really, really enjoyed this book. Even though I read it in print, Sal’s voice was so strong, talking so quickly and full of enthusiasm. There are some very sad events, but they were balanced by plenty of humor, friendship, and strong family love, both in Sal’s family, and Gabi’s (which included her mom and a whole lot of dads.) Sometimes the dialogue drifts into Spanish for a bit, sometimes translated, sometimes not- I was mostly able to follow along with my very limited Spanish, though I looked up the occasional phrase – one that charmed me was “buena y sana y brinca la rana,” which my mother and I translated (roughly) to “safe and sound and the frog jumps around.”
As I said, I passed this on to my mother, who loved it enough to write a thank-you note to the author. She said it had her in carcajadas (another sign that my mother’s Spanish is much better than mine.) as well as telling him that she would tell me to write a review. (This was not really necessary.) This funny and heartfelt story is recommended to a broad range of readers.