With his debut novel, An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes, Filipino-born author Randy Ribay emerges as a bright new star of YA literature. His novel follows four teens—players of Dungeons & Dragons since sixth grade—they take a cross-country drive at the start of their senior year in pursuit of an ex-girlfriend. But while reuniting Sam with Sarah, who dumped him before moving from New Jersey to Seattle, is the reason for the drive, fellow players Archie, Mari, and Dante have their own reasons to take off. In early sections alternating each character’s point of view, we learn about Archie’s gay father who has moved him to a different school district, Mari’s mother who has cancer and is pressuring the adopted biracial teen to meet her birth mother, Dante whose coming out as gay has angered his conservative African-American family, and Sam himself, who resents his immigrant Filipino parents’ relentless pressure to achieve. The second part, in omniscient point of view, focuses on the road trip itself, a journey fraught with danger that brings the teens to discover the value in themselves and each other.
Ribay handles the omniscient narrative with sensitivity and skill. We see early on that the four (five, if one includes Sarah) D & D players are more acquaintances than friends. They aren’t sure they can count on each other in hard times. Archie, for instance, walks out on Mari when she tells him her mother has cancer. When Dante, looking for a casual hookup, encounters Archie’s father, they discover that neither of them trusts Archie to accept them for who they are. Wrapped up in him own problems, Sam turns away from everyone. All of the teens are flawed, but they are also familiar—and human. And they are capable of change.
Ribay’s characters also reflect the diversity and intersectionality of twenty-first century teenagers in the United States. Dante, who is African-American and gay, struggles to find his place as both. Archie, who is white, is falling in love with biracial Mari, but his open-mindedness regarding race doesn’t extend to LGBTQIA persons. Mari refuses to acknowledge her birth mother, with class issues playing a role. In all, Ribay has created a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, road trip novel full of vivid, beautiful writing as well.