Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

By Carlos Hernandez

Ages 8 to 12.

At first, 13-year-old Sal Vidón seems to be simply a very talented magician. Sal has just moved from Connecticut to Miami, Florida, and in his third day at Culeco Academy of the Arts, he avoids a fight with a bigger classmate by somehow putting a dead chicken in the bully’s locker.

Before long it’s clear that not only is Sal a quick-witted character and narrator, he also has skills that go way beyond magic tricks. He can draw on parallel universes to try to solve difficult problems.

But, as author Carlos Hernandez shows in this never-boring novel, dealing with the multiverse has its risks. This is especially true when Gabi Reál, another classmate, becomes curious about the new kid and trips up some of Sal’s plans.

While describing his first hectic days of school in Miami, Sal also fills us in on the serious challenges he has faced in his life. His mother died when he was 8 years old, and he has been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He is not only dealing with his grief, but also trying to keep track of his blood-sugar levels. When Sal forgets to eat and wakes up in the hospital, he sees that Gabi is also coping with medical issues. From then on, they become the best of friends.

Even in dire situations, Sal’s mood remains cheerful, partly because he sees how most people are trying to do what’s right. He would rather not be sent to the principal’s office every day, for instance, but he has great respect for Principal Torres. She is willing to admit a mistake and has “zero tolerance for cacaseca.”

What, you may ask, is “cacaseca”? Throughout the book, Sal explains such gems of Cuban American conversation. As he puts it, “It literally means ‘dry poop,’ but really it means ‘Dude, your poop is so played out. Don’t try to play me with your played-out poop.”

Sal and Gabi don’t tolerate cacaseca, either. They are both energetic, kindhearted and intelligent, none of which prevents them from getting into much more trouble than they — or Sal’s physicist father — could have imagined. Might their well-meaning actions put the entire universe in danger? You’ll have to read this book and its 2020 sequel, “Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe,” to find out.

You might also like . . .

In “Maya and the Rising Dark,” by Rena Barron, 12-year-old Maya must make new friends and save her Chicago neighborhood (and the rest of the world) from supernatural dark forces. (For ages 8 to 12.)

Set in ancient Greece and written for 10-to-14-year-olds, Laura Amy Schlitz’s “Amber & Clay” follows two kids of different backgrounds as they try to save their multidimensional world.

Do you have a suggestion for a book or two related to our “True Friends” theme? Ask a parent or teacher to fill out the form at wapo.st/kidspost_YMAL by July 28, and we may publish your recommendation. In August we will send prize packages, including a surprise from author Carlos Hernandez, to three randomly selected kids who sent in suggestions.

Next time in book club

by Brandy Colbert

Ages 9 to 13.

Alberta and Laramie have been best friends for years. The new family that moves in across the street from Alberta may change their relationship. The family is Black with a 12-year-old daughter, Edie. Alberta, who has long been the town’s only Black girl, is instantly drawn to Edie. The two girls, however, have vastly different interests. California girl Alberta loves to surf. Edie grew up in New York City and dresses all in black. The two discover a set of journals and form a friendship while investigating the racist episodes that the journals reveal.

Join the club

The Summer Book Club is open to kids ages 6 to 14. They may read some or all of the books on our list. (Find a blurb for each book at wapo.st/kidspostbookclublaunch2021.) The first 700 kids registered will receive a flying disc. To join the club, children must be registered by a parent or guardian. To register, that adult must fill out our form at wapo.st/kidspostbookclub2021. If you have questions, contact kidspost@washpost.com.