by Carlos Hernandez
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
This book starts with a bang and never looks back or slows down, which is partly due to a forward by Rick Riordan, though beginning the story with Hernandez’s skillful first chapter would be plenty gripping. Our hero, Sal Vidon, is always at the center of the action, of which there is plenty. Sal is able to reach through some sort of wormhole to other parallel universes and bring things or people through to our universe. Sometimes they come with things that then disappear back with them when they return, which is inconvenient (or in the case of food already in your tummy, very sad). Sometimes it’s your dead Mami or a sick baby you’re trying to make better and you wish you could keep. Sal’s father works on fixing wormholes.
There’s a lot to love about this book. We open on a scene with new-kid-at-school Sal, bully Yasmany, and Yasmany’s “lawyer” and student council president Gabi (like a 7th grade Cuban Hillary Clinton). The relationships between the three of them are very rich. Gabi’s family is fascinating and includes many adults she refers to as Dad, some of whom are male, plus a mom, and Sal doesn’t make a big deal of this when he learns it, so we never learn more. Gabi also has a baby brother who is in the NICU, so a fair amount of the story takes place there. Sal himself has type-1 diabetes, which is one reason my (also type-1 diabetic) boss shoved it in my hands to read. The information about diabetes is skillfully, if not own-voices-y, presented, not really didactic. Sal is a magician, which is how he gains entry into his performing arts magnet middle school in Miami, and magic plays a large role in the story, not just a quirky thing about him. Sal’s mother passed away several years ago and his dad married his vice principal – again, not incidental to the story. Sal loved his mother and loves his American Stepmom (which is how he refers to her almost always). He also has a habit of bringing back his mother from other universes (part of why they moved). Finally, Yasmany’s home life is, predictably, rough – and it’s his mother who is the abuser (unclear if his father is in the picture).
There are also relationships with teachers and other kids, as well as the same cast of characters from other universes with whom Sal and Gabi interact, all of which add richness and depth to the story. There’s also a fair amount of Spanish and spanglish, and some interesting slang (apparently in Sal’s world, being called a “sandwich” is an insult?). Altogether very well done and I’m looking forward to book 2, which should be out next year!
by Anna Staniszewski
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Seventh-grader Lexi just wants to maintain order and balance in her world, which is usually frighteningly out of whack. Her 4-year-old brother is in and out of hospitals a lot and her parents are stressed, her mother even losing her job because of the time she has to devote to his care. Lexi buys four-leaf clovers from her classmate to help with her luck and is constantly making deals with the universe for added protection. She’s also struggling with her best friend abandoning her for a new friend, when all Lexi wants is for things to continue just as they were. So when she comes across a bag of wishing stones, she has a lot of wishes to make – if they even work. She tries one and it does seem to work – except not exactly how she imagined. By the time she gets to her fourth wish, things are really out of hand and she seems to be in a bit of a pickle. But her aunt saves the day in surprising ways and Lexi learns a lot. In the end, though things go back to how they were before, Lexi is changed.
This book is delightful. I can see kids with anxiety and a need for control really identifying with Lexi. I loved that Lexi breaks out of her comfort zone and tries out for the dance team, even after a really embarrassing first attempt. Her best friend, Cassa, reveals that she is moving to England, and by the end of the book, Lexi is okay with that (and even starts to make friends with the once-hated interloper, Marina). I especially like that Lexi’s aunt also comes out of her shell a bit and reconnects with her childhood best friend. There are lots of little details and hints planted masterfully here and there and it’s just a very sweet story.
Ten-year-old Livy comes back to Australia to visit her grandmother. Her last visit was five years ago, which she doesn’t remember at all. She also doesn’t remember the friend she made then, and that is because he is partly magic. His name is Bob and he’s been waiting in Livy’s closet for five years, because she told him to. He is crushed that she doesn’t remember him, but it turns out there’s a reason for that. While solving the mystery of who Bob is and how to get him back home, Livy rekindles her friendship with Sarah, her grandmother’s neighbor and learns about memory and friendship and water.
I love these two writers and am always intrigued by collaborations, mostly because it involves a meshing of two processes, which generally authors get pretty used to doing very much on their own. I spend a lot of time wondering who wrote which lines or chapters, what their process ended up looking like, when they laughed or yelled at each other, and whether they were satisfied with the final product. This story is pretty seamless so I’d like to think that the process went pretty well for them! I did have trouble not picturing Bob as Roger the alien from American Dad, but that might just be me. Nicholas Gannon‘s sparse, sepia-toned illustrations definitely helped.
Spoiler: I loved the ending, and who Bob turns out to be, which is a well dweller, and his absence has caused a drought in Australia. When a well dweller gets too far away from the well, he forgets where he came from. A small detail I bet I’ll forget is that Livy has named her baby sister BethAnn, and it turns out that Bob has two sisters named Beth and Ann. Some small things do get lodged into her memory somehow, and these echoes make lovely little details for the story and even help it along. Most adults can’t see Bob at all, it seems, though Sarah’s little brother, Danny, can. I think he sees him as a chicken, because of 5-year-old Livy’s improvised chicken suit that he wears, which is a hilarious image. I loved that Bob reads the dictionary and rebuilds a Lego pirate ship and counts to 987,654,321 six times in the five years between Livy’s visits. But mostly I love that he forgives her and that they are friends again, easily.