Nine years ago, when she was in third grade, Chloé befriended a quiet, sad boy named Rock. She comforted him; he challenged her to a race across the playground. They've been racing (and challenging each other) ever since.
Seven years ago, Chloé spent the summer helping her uncle Seth fix up a motorcycle. They poured their blood, sweat, and oil into it. They named her Lolita.
Five months and nineteen days ago, Uncle Seth died.
Now it's the day after winter break, and Chloé's counting down the five months left in the school year. Before summer break arrives, she will ride, scream, cry, fall in love, find freedom on the road, seek solace at the dock, and try to bring up her chemistry grade.
Gaby Triana's latest novel, Riding the Universe, is her best yet. Chloé Rodriguez is a strong, stubborn girl who confronts her struggles - be they with science, boys, or machines - head-on. Though she rarely says them out loud, she often combines words in her mind to describe a feeling she's having, like awkwardity and stellacular. (Woo hoo for portmanteaus!)
Chloé's parents got married when they were twenty-one years old, and they are still very much in love. Meanwhile, Rock's mom moved away to be with her boyfriend right before he met Chloé. In his teen years, Rock shed his shyness and became a serial dater. Chloé often disapproves of the girls he dates, and she's reluctant to admit that could be because she's jealous, or that she knows that Rock likes her as more than a friend.
Chloé surprises herself when she falls for her chemistry peer tutor, Gordon Spudinka. At the same time, she feels like there's something going on with Rock, something that's making them drift apart. As she becomes closer to Gordon, her priorities shift, and she and Rock spend less and less time together.
The topics of grief, adoption, and identity are handled well. The fact that she was adopted doesn't really matter to Chloé; she loves her twin brothers, whom her mother gave birth to the previous year, and she never thinks of Mama and Papi as anything less than her parents. Only recently has she begun thinking about her birth parents and blood relatives. She gets worried when considering medical scenarios: what she would do if she someday needed a blood transfusion like Seth did? Who could help her then?
Each character in Chloé's world has a distinct voice and presence. Her kind, careful mom is obsessed with astrology while her daughter prefers astronomy. Affectionate Rock often teases his closest friend, but when he's serious, he means every word he says. Gordon is intelligent but easily confused by Chloé. Gentle Papi, a fisherman for the local seafood market, is described so well on the first page of the book that one can see him instantly.
There are plenty of bumps in the road of life, along with twists and turns one may not see coming. Riding the Universe handles the curves very well, making for a memorable journey through Florida City.
I read the article and find it utterly amazing how quickly things can change in this world. We learn things in elementary school that later are disproven, like Columbus not actually discovering America and Pluto going from planet to dwarf-planet status all because less than five percent of the world's astronomers think it should be that way. It makes me wonder: why should we get used to anything when nothing is permanent? Even people. Why should we put our hearts way out there for them when they're only going to die on you one day?
Interview: Gaby Triana
Book Review: The Temptress Four by Gaby Triana
Booklist: But I Don't Want to Be Famous! (includes a mini-review of Backstage Pass by Gaby Triana)