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An Infinite Number Of Cringeworthy Moments

Randy Ribay’s An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes follows four diverse teens on a poorly thought-out road trip.

An Infinite Number Of Cringeworthy Moments

BOOK REPORT for An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay

Cover Story: True Blue
BFF Charm: Hell No, Nay, Big Sister, Platinum Edition
Swoonworthy Scale: -2
Talky Talk: Omniscient x4
Bonus Factors: Diversity, LGBTQ, D&D
Anti-Bonus Factors: WWYT?, Homophobia
Relationship Status: Driving Instructor

Cover Story: True Blue

Minimalistic covers are a welcome relief from the big faces and the ballgowns, and this one nails it. The tagline tells you it’s a story about friendship, and its cursive font and the stars and clouds doodles are just enough to keep it visually interesting and hint that it’s a YA story.

The Deal:

Archie, Mari, Dante, and Sam are… well, not quite friends, but they all have one thing in common: their love for Dungeons and Dragons. So when Archie’s dealing with his parents’ divorce, Mari has some serious mama drama, Sam’s girlfriend Sarah dumps him and moves across the country, and Dante’s uber religious grandparents find out he’s gay, they need each other more than ever, but none of them are quite ready to take their friendship beyond their weekly D&D games—that is, until they embark on a real-life quest to get Sam and Sarah back together.

BFF Charm: Hell No (Archie), Nay (Sam), Big Sister (Mari), Platinum Edition (Dante)

Hard pass, and I’m going to let Archie himself explain why:

B-O-O-B. Archie smiles at the floating letters he’s managed to save until the end of his bowl of cereal. Their tiny oat forms start to drift apart in the milk, so he nudges them back into place with his spoon. Hesitant to consume his creation, Archie snaps a picture with his phone, sends it to Dante. He then finishes his breakfast.

Then she remembers Archie’s text. She feels a pang of guilt that nearly a day has passed and she has not replied to it.
can you come over right now? She finally texts back.
Her phone immediately chirps with a reply: how many condoms should i bring? j/k! on my way smile

He turns around to check on the snack progress and sees Mari bent over. She is looking at the back of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. It is a beautiful sight. Like two integrals ready to be solved.

“Look,” Dante says. He kills the engine and tilts his chin toward a white, rectangular sign, about thirty or forty feet in front of them.
Welcome to Ohio, it says. So Much to Discover!
“I thought it’d be bigger,” Mari says.
“That’s what she said,” Archie says.
He looks to see if she smiles. She does not.

“You’re so multicultural. It’s like a microcosm of America.”
“We just need an Indian chief and a cop,” Archie says. Sunshine laughs. But nobody else does.

“I liked her,” Dante says, smoothing his hand over the book’s cover. “She was honest.”
“Too bad she was a lesbian,” Archie says.

“Oh please,” Archie says. “You just don’t understand what it’s like to grow up male in this world.”

“Don’t hate the player,” Archie says. “Hate the game.”

Mari turns on Archie. “What the hell?!”
“He was going to hurt you!”
“No he wasn’t—you didn’t need to hit him. I’m not some damsel in distress here for you to save!”
“You should be thanking me,” Archie says, shaking off the pain in his hand.

He feels the need to pee, so he unravels himself from Mari and makes his way to the bathroom. He urinates, but does not flush.

Sam is that friend you’re pretty chill with—until the minute he meets a girl and his entire world instantly revolves around her. This is the friend who keeps flaking on plans, and on the rare occasion that he does show up, he has to bring his girlfriend along and/or always finds a way to make the conversation about her. Eventually, it gets to the point where this friend becomes devoid of all personality or rational thought and can’t or refuses to see the red flags. Inevitably, they break up, and this friend suddenly remembers you exist again and wants to hang (most likely to pine over his ex).

While I wasn’t adopted into a white family like Mari, I understand all too well what it’s like to be black in mostly white spaces. That, and the fact that we’re both Ravenclaws, older siblings, and the only daughter, would hopefully help Mari feel like we could relate. Plus, she needs a big sister to lovingly but firmly remind her that Archie ain’t shit.

Dante is the real MVP. He faces the fallout of being outed before he was ready with absolute grace. He literally risks his life to save his friends. He forgives people even when they really don’t deserve it, TBH. Clearly, I’m petty as hell, but Dante would still want to be my friend anyway because he’s just that noble.

Swoonworthy Scale: -2

It’s hard to consider what Archie feels for Mari and what Sam feels for Sarah “swoon.” It’s more like, “This girl’s not really into me, but I’m going to be an annoying creep about it until she changes her mind.”

Talky Talk: Omniscient x4

The narrator follows each character, one at a time, over the week leading up to the road trip. It’s an interesting style choice that allows the reader to get to know them individually but have the context of knowing what the other characters were thinking and feeling during those same scenes. Plus, an omniscient narrator rather than first-person POV gets the author off the hook for having to create four distinct voices. Once we learn what each character was doing during that fateful week, the rest of the book focuses on them as a group during the trip.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Of the four main characters, three are POC. Let me say that again: people of color are actual fully fledged characters not relegated to sidekick status. And not just people of color, nerds of color. I also love that the author shies away from portraying a “typical” family. Mari’s black and adopted by white parents, Dante’s black and lives with his grandparents, Archie’s white with divorced parents, and Sam’s Filipino with married, immigrant parents. (The author’s Filipino, too—shoutout to #ownvoices).

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

Y’all, there are seven gay characters in this book. Seven! Fat, skinny, tall, short, adults, teens, married couples, some who marched out of the closet, some who were pushed out, and some who realized later in life.

Bonus Factor: D&D

While I don’t play Dungeons and Dragons myself, I appreciate it for its significance in nerd culture. It’s more than just a game; it brings nerds together in a fantasy world that provides the freedom to reinvent yourself that the real world doesn’t. On the flip side, that’s why it totally makes sense that these kids hang out every week, yet don’t really know each other at all.

Anti-Bonus Factor: WWYT?

So many reckless decisions these teenagers made had me wondering, “What were you thinking?” To name a few:

-Stealing a parent’s credit card
-Picking up a hitchhiker
-Skinnydipping with four adult man strangers
-Driving cross-country while ignoring tornado warnings and letting the lone unlicensed one among them get behind the wheel

Anti-Bonus Factor: Homophobia

The homophobia Dante is faced with—from friends, family, his church community, and strangers—includes slurs, having his phone, car, and computer taken away as punishment, being labeled a sinner, and physical assault. It’s a harsh reminder of the daily reality faced by many teens who don’t have a support system to rely on during a time in their lives when they need it the most.

Casting Call

Yara Shahidi as Mari

Roshon Fegan as Sam

Dayo Okeniyi as Dante

Jace Norman as Archie

Relationship Status: Driving Instructor

I was hoping for a much less anxiety-inducing experience when I got into the car with you, book, but you deviated from the course and took me on a wild ride. Your characters threw caution to the wind and made some pretty reckless moves, and I can’t say I wasn’t relieved to make it out of the car alive.

FTC Full Disclosure: This book was provided by Merit Press. I received no gold Galleons, silver Sickles, bronze Knuts, or Muggle money for this review. An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes is available now.

Britt's photo About the Author: Britt lives in San Francisco, CA. When she’s not sprawled out on her classroom floor after a long day of droppin’ knowledge, she can be found at home reading YA and/or reminding Netflix that yes she is still watching, thank you very much. Her patronus is a bespectacled giraffe.