Sal Vidon, able narrator, is somehow calm when outrageous things are happening. And plenty of outrageous things do happen in this book, so the result is hilarious. Carlos Hernandez’ middle grade novel Sal and Gabi Break the Universe focuses on out-of-this-world humor and on an ethnic group, Cuban-Americans. I came away feeling refreshed and much more knowledgeable about Cuban-Americans.

Sal, junior magician, starts at a new school. When a bully targets him, Sal somehow deposits a chicken carcass in the kid’s locker. Sal soon gets in trouble, but not very much trouble–since the carcass has vanished.

Gabi, a Hermione Grainger sort of person, is intent on figuring out how he did it, so she runs a lie-detector test on him during a class skit. When he says he pulled the chicken out of a parallel universe, she doesn’t believe him. But the lie detector says he’s not lying.

The long zany story unwinds from there in a wandering sort of way. (It’s not always a page-turner.) Another issue: the book’s genre is not apparent at the beginning, as most readers prefer. It seems to be a regular middle-grade contemporary for quite a while, but it’s really sci-fi.

The humor, Sal’s unflappable attitude, and the Cuban jokes make up for shortcomings, though. I’ll give it four stars. * * * *

Discern: Religious parents need to be aware that this book ultimately displays an atheist worldview. There is a scene near the end that attributes a miracle to the action of “the universe” that “loves us” and “wants to help.”

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@Barrie Summy
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