This magical realism story is one wild, strange, brilliant, heartfelt ride!
Sal & Gabi is an incredible story of inclusivity, imagination, compassion, stereotype-smashing-whirl-wind that hits at hard topics.
Sal Vidon has just started at Culeco Academy, a Miami based school of dreams for the artistically gifted. He has had a rough start – landing himself three visits with the principal in the first week alone. Sal also has the ability to open portals to other realms and the use of this ability has landed him once again in the principals office, after an incident involving a raw chicken and a bully (Yasmany).
Gabi Real, student council president and self appointed lawyer to Yasmany, is present at this meeting to help clear her “client’s” record … she sees through Sal’s games. Gabi and Sal form a fast friendship after she discovers his ability. However the opening of these portals is putting the world in jeopardy and together Gabi and Sal must find away to put it right again.
Straight up – this is one of the most genuinely inclusive stories I’ve read. The characters are sharp, vivid, and unique. The concept is incredibly original and incredibly funny (the potty humour here will hit the mark with the intended target, maybe not so with parents … aka me).
Carlos Hernandez does not shy away from smashing into stereotypes about masculinity (men can cry! men can say they are sorry!) feminism (hello Gabi’s t-shirt quotes and plethora of strong women characters … and women robots), even bullies (Yasmany’s character arc was my favourite and most heart wrenching).
There are powerful, heavy topics discussed here — grief, loss, trauma, child abuse, and sex. While I am so vocal and supportive of authors who do not talk down to their audience, I do feel the need to express a little grievance over the marketing of this book. It is an OLDER middle grade. The discussion of child abuse can be quite unsettling for the younger reader. As well there is an important conversation here on sex and becoming a sexual person that probably isn’t meant for the under 12 crowd. I have a problem with this book being so bright, accessible and marketed to 8-12 year olds with these big topics included that require some guidance.
HOWEVER, under the guidance of the parent this book launches some fabulous discussions with your child … but I would highly recommend buddy reading or read aloud format. Know your child, know what they can handle.
I adore own voices novels. Sal & Gabi brings Cuban culture to life through the food and powerful family scenes … and the huge blocks of Spanish dialogue, while adding incredible authenticity, will definitely be appreciated by those who can speak the language!
Overall this a fun, heartfelt, and powerful magical realism middle grade novel. Be prepared to laugh, be prepared to have your heartstrings pulled, and be prepared to have important conversations with your child … Sal & Gabi packs it all in, in one dynamic, explosive adventure.