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Book Club Kits: Sal & Gabi Break the Universe

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

ABOUT THE BOOK It all starts with a raw chicken in a locker. When Sal Vidón avoids a beating from school bully Yasmany by reaching into another dimension and pulling out a raw chicken, he assumes he’ll be able to explain away his actions with a magician’s sleight of hand. Enter Gabi Reál, editor of the school newspaper and student council president. She’s determined to defend her friend Yasmany and prove Sal planted the poultry in Yasmany’s locker, even though the raw chicken has since mysteriously disappeared. Although the entire school thinks Sal is a brujo, Gabi’s sharp investigative skills prove Sal’s expert magic tricks come from something far from witchcraft. He’s able to pull things from other dimensions and bring them into his own, including his dead mother. When Sal’s ability to manipulate the universe doesn’t faze Gabi, he knows he’s found a friend, or at least someone he can work with. After all, Gabi is dealing with her own set of problems, including a younger brother clinging to life in the NICU. Fueled with bellies of Cuban food and aided by a sharp-tongued entropy sweeper, Sal and Gabi attempt to mend the dimension rifts created by Sal’s magic tricks and solve their problems, hoping they don’t end the universe in the process.

Discussion Questions

1. In the first chapter, Yasmany insults Sal by telling him, “Just come back from safari, white boy? I mean, if you even are a boy.” What do we learn about Sal based on this statement?

2. In the beginning of the book, we read that Sal has type 1 diabetes. What do we learn about how Sal manages his diabetes? How might this affect his school day?

3. In chapter 3, we meet Gabi Reál. Based on her behavior in the principal’s office, what assumptions can we make about her character?

4. In the beginning of chapter 4, Sal explains that a giant helped him. Who do you think the giant is and how did it help Sal?

5. Sal says that questions can’t be lies. Do you agree with his statement? How does Sal use this to his advantage during the lie detector test?

6. In chapter 6, Sal thinks, “Gabi, man. That girl was nothing but trouble.” Why would Sal think this about Gabi and not Yasmany?

7. Sal can reach into other dimensions in order to do tricks. Why do you think he’s training to be a legitimate magician when he could simply do magic tricks that way?

8. Instead of sending him to detention for misbehaving, Sal’s PE teacher says, “You’re going places! Because being a diabetic will never get in the way of your dreams!” Do you think we treat people who are facing challenges differently? What do you think Sal’s PE teacher should have done?

9. Why are Sal and Gabi antagonists at first? What is the turning point in their relationship?

10. Why does Sal keep pulling things from other dimensions if he knows the damage it causes?

11. Each time Sal pulls his Mami Muerta from another dimension, she’s slightly different. Do you think these versions of his mom are still his mom?

12. If Papi really builds the remembranation machine, how will that affect Sal’s ability to pull things from other dimensions? Do you think Sal really wants the machine to work?

13. When Sal meets all of Gabi’s dads, he says that’s the moment she became his friend for real. Why do you think it’s this event that makes them friends?

14. Sal meets Gabi’s little brother, Iggy, in the neonatal intensive care unit. What things do Sal and Iggy have in common?

15. Read over the article Gabi wrote about Sal for the Rotten Egg newspaper. Why would Sal view the article negatively and Gabi view the same article positively?

16. At the beginning of chapter 23, Sal describes all the things he’s learning in school. He says his classes give him the same sense of wonder he gets from peeking into alternate realities. Do you think his comparison is accurate?

17. When the PE teacher changes the climbing wall so that it can be easily conquered, the students are upset. Why do you think this is, even though they’d all been frustrated in the past at not being able to get to the top?

18. Spanish is frequently used in conversation in Sal and Gabi Break the Universe. Sometimes Sal explains what is being said and sometimes 5 he doesn’t. Read the conversation between Principal Torres and Sal on page 275. What do you think travesuras means? What clues in their conversation help you understand the meaning of the word?

19. Sal never asks Yasmany what happened to him. What do you think happened? What clues from the story support your opinion?

20. Sal and Gabi perform their play about death in the cafeteria of the hospital. How does the play connect to the themes of the entire book?

21. Carlos Hernandez, the author of Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, is writing a sequel to the book. What problems do you think Sal and Gabi will face in the next book based on how the story ends?

About the Author

 Carlos Hernandez drew on his Cuban American background, as well as his love of sci-fi, to write this story. He is also the author of more than thirty works of fiction, poetry, and drama, most notably a book of short stories for adults entitled The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria. He is an English professor at City University of New York, and he loves to both play games as well as design them. He lives with his wife, Claire, in Queens, New York. Follow him on Twitter @WriteTeachPlay.