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Sal And Gabi Fix The Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Gosh, I’ve been such a lucky reader lately. I was so excited to snag this ARC from Netgalley, and my expectations were more than met – I was blown away. I loved SAL AND GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE, so I was super pumped to read the sequel. And it delivered! SAL AND GABI FIX THE UNIVERSE is another fantastic example of an author growing with their series; it delivers the same joyous romp through the multiverse as the first book, with the added bonus of getting to watch Carlos Hernandez look through his literary toolbox, turn it upside down, and shake it to see what comes out.

This book sidles sideways, teenager-like, into your brain. You think you’re reading a fun YA with charming characters, but suddenly you’re two-thirds of the way through and realize that you’re reading a well-developed science fiction world with rules for artificial intelligence and quantum physics. Whaaaaat? It casually takes on topics like the ultimate nature of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ while making fart jokes with a talking toilet. You think you’re reading about a school production (did I mention I adore the school in this book, and would like to sign up for my children to go there?), but then you realize that the school’s treatment of rompenoche is a literary tool, too – no spoilers, but it reflects the concept of the multiverse that grounds the entire series. Whoa. This book is the perfect teenaged blend of child and adult; serious stuff blends casually with humor in a unique outlook that whirls from magic tricks to metaphysics.

Hernandez also continues a trend I loved in the first book, which is that his teenaged characters approach inclusion with matter-of-fact sincerity; when someone suggests the prefix ‘senorx’ as a gender-neutral term, it’s adopted instantly within the entire narrative with very little comment (including the in-text use of the abbreviated ‘srx’). There’s casual reference to a character being aromantic; the principal’s spouse is nonbinary. None of this stuff gets or needs extra commentary or explanation; it’s just part of the world, the way it should be.

And then there’s the language. Languages, I should say. The narrative slips smoothly through seamless transitions – I don’t even know if you can call them transitions, because everything is so completely integrated – between two languages. I’ve long been a proponent of not italicizing non-english words, and this book is like a masterclass in why and how it works. Sal and his friends are bilingual at different levels – some characters speak both languages fluently, others are more halting, others are still learning one or the other. But we get to hear from all of them in their own unique voices, blending the two languages, and it’s so well done that even the most plodding English-speaker (yours truly, who speaks exactly zero words of Spanish) easily sails along with the narrative. Translations are done casually, in dialog or internal monologue, and they don’t break the flow at all because translating is also part of the story – someone is explaining something to another character, or thinking about what something means in a wider perspective. It’s so well done!

And finally, we get to the best part about this book. The voice. I LOVED Sal’s narrative in BREAK THE UNIVERSE; it gets even better in FIX THE UNIVERSE. There’s nothing awkward about Sal’s narrative in this book; we’re fully inhabiting his character and he’s a genuine delight. Some of this is because now we know him – there’s less need for backstory in a book two – but some of it is just that Hernandez has gotten even better at writing this unique voice. Sal’s banter is nonstop – and it’s not all out loud. He even banters with himself. It’s when he’s interacting with his beloved family and friends that he shines the most, though. There’s genuine emotion spilled everywhere in this book, and there’s even a new word for it. I still adore American Stepmom and her ‘phew babies,’ but a new term has vaulted into my lexicon: I’ll never stop smeeping.