the Little Red Reviewer

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Posted on: February 24, 2019

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

publishes on March 5, 2019

where I got it: Received ARC








Little Red Reviewer doesn’t read kids books, you say!


But Little Red Reviewer does read Carlos Hernandez, says I!   I am interested in reading anything Carlos Hernandez writes. He could write a cookbook, and I’d read it (actually, yes please?) gleefully.    Same thing goes for a handful of other authors, by the way.


So, yeah, I read a kids book.  And I liked it! Or, at least, I liked this one. It made me feel carefree.


Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is an adorable novel aimed toward middle school aged readers. It is very fast paced, has serious scenes, has a lot of humor, great characters, loving families,  magic tricks, middle school hijinks, fast thinking and faster talking, and a kid who really misses his mom.


This is the Harry Potter book you didn’t realize you were waiting for.


Sal Vidon is in a new town, and a new school. So far  his new magnet school seems like the best school ever – the electives are interesting, the teachers do really fun activities to help the students get engaged with what they are learning, and some of the students are even entertained by Sal’s amatuer magic tricks!  When he magicked a dead chicken into someone’s locker, the Principal was not entertained. After the dead chicken trick, some students have started thinking Sal might be a brujo.


For the first time in a long time, Sal actually enjoys going to school.

For the first time since his Mami died, he’s smiling and laughing.


And as much as he enjoys sleight of hand magic tricks, Sal didn’t use magic to put the dead chicken into that other kid’s locker.   Sal is able to reach into the multiverse, and go to any spot in any universe, and grab whatever he wants. His actions tear a hole in spacetime, but the holes usually sew themselves right back up after a few hours. And there was that one time, when he went looking for his Mami. In a parallel universe, she’s still Mami Viva.  In a lot of other parallel universes, she’s cooking the most amazing Cuban food you’ve ever had.


When Sal loses control of some part of his inner self, a Mami Viva comes into our universe.  She has no idea that it’s been five years. She has no idea her husband, Sal’s Papi, has remarried. She has no idea that in this universe, she’s dead.  Them’s some awkward family dinners, that’s for sure.

How Carlos Hernandez can make something that sounds fairly grim, and turn it into something that is laugh out loud funny, now that is some sleight of hand!    I didn’t mean to start with the grim stuff, because this really is a very fun and funny book (it is a Hopebright book!!), but I wanted you to know right away that this book deals with some serious stuff – stuff that in real life, a lot of kids are dealing with on a very real, day to day basis.  Ok, most kids probably aren’t dealing with being able to rip a hole in spacetime, but you know what i mean.


So let’s get to the fun and funny stuff!   Sal might be quiet and reserved, but he can’t escape his classmate Gabi,  who is cheerfully boisterous and magnetically energetic. At first, Gabi has a goal of exposing how Sal does his special magic tricks, and then she’s annoyed, yet intrigued by his harmless pranks.  And once Gabi feels comfortable introducing Sal to all of her Dads (long story, and you’ll love it, I promise), Sal becomes another member of her family.


And don’t even get me started on the food!  Nearly everytime Sal visits with Gabi’s large chosen family, there is an amazing spread of Cuban food.  Sal is often greeted with something along the lines of “you look hungry, let me make you plate”, and then my mouth started to water.   I know what’s going on here, because I want to feed people I care about too. Preparing food made me happy, and sharing it with people I care about makes me even happier, and it’s that happiness that I want to give to people when I share a meal with them.  Hernandez knows there’s no need to explain any of that, you see it all on Gabi’s mom’s face when she sees how much Sal enjoys his dinner.


This book isn’t all magic tricks, humor, snark and excellent Cuban food, as much as I’d like to have a book that 100% that stuff.  The recent holes that Sal has made in spacetime, they aren’t closing like they usually do. He doesn’t know how to control what he’s doing, and dangerous things could happen.  His Papi offers some well intended advice, and allows Sal the use of near-future gizmo, complete with an entertainingly obnoxious AI.


Sal and Gabi Break the Universe runs along at a breakneck pace. Like, so fast that you’ll forget to ask “Doesn’t Sal’s stepmom find it rude that he calls her American-Stepmom?”, “How did Sal get interested in learning how to do magic tricks, anyway?” and “Who is Iggy’s dad?”   Two of those questions get answered, and the answer is not anywhere close to what you thought it would be.  The other question? The answer is maybe not your business. Oh, I didn’t tell you about Iggy, did I? Iggy is, um, important. I’m not going to tell you why.  And Sal has got to figure out this spacetime multiverse thing really, really fast, because, um, spoilers that I’m also not going to tell you.


Give this book to your kids.  Your kids will laugh their heads off,  they’ll pick up some conversational Spanish,  they’ll insist on eating delicious cuban food, and they’ll probably get interested in magic tricks.  And when your kid (or you!) asks you if there’s more, you can tell them there is a sequel on the way.


Good news parents!  Carlos Hernandez is also the author of one of my favorite fiction collections,  The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria (review here) . This collection is absolutely, 100% not for kids, and a million percent perfect for grown ups.


7 Responses to "Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez"

This sounds like such a good book for middle schoolers. I was going to say I wish it was around when I was that age, and I do, but then I realized I can read it at any age 🙂


I’d put this in the hands of every single 6th grader if I could! I do wish there were more books like this when I was that age.

Liked by 1 person

Hurrah! This sounds awesome – I’m gonna make my library buy it!! 😀


Ask at your library if they have a librarian who specializes in Middle Grade fiction, and tell that person all about this book. 🙂

Liked by 1 person

I don’t tend to read a lot of MG books – but perhaps I should try more because I haven’t really got an aversion to them – I just tend to overlook them.
Lynn 😀

Liked by 1 person

i tend to overlook them too. I prefer grown up books. I read this because I’ve liked Hernandez’s adult fiction in the past.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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