Infinite Number of Parallel Universes, An

by Randy Ribay
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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1032

Author: Randy Ribay

First published: 2015

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realism

Time of plot: 2015

Locale: Philadelphia and Seattle

Principal characters

Archie, a teenager struggling to accept his father's homosexuality

Mari , a teenager who considers reaching out to her biological mother after her adoptive mother...

(The entire section contains 1032 words.)

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Author: Randy Ribay

First published: 2015

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realism

Time of plot: 2015

Locale: Philadelphia and Seattle

Principal characters

Archie, a teenager struggling to accept his father's homosexuality

Mari, a teenager who considers reaching out to her biological mother after her adoptive mother is diagnosed with cancer

Dante, a shy, geeky, gay teen who is wrestling with his own sexuality

Sam, a lovesick teen

The Story

Randy Ribay's novel An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes is the story of four close friends about to enter their senior year of high school who are battling their own demons. The structure of the book is significant as it is unusual. The book is split into two distinct halves. In the first half, a third-person narrator jumps between points of view, relaying the events of last week of summer before senior year as it happened to each character. In the second half, the characters come together, and the narrator settles into a single, omniscient voice, to embark on an adventure from one end of the United States to the other.Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Archie is a straight, white teen who excels at math and likes to crack immature jokes. As the novel opens, Archie is gearing up to move in with his father. Archie is upset about the move because it means that he will have to switch schools, although his mother senses that there is a deeper reason for Archie's apprehension. His parents, recently divorced, split because Archie's father came out as gay. On top of that, Archie has a more personal problem: He has a huge crush on his friend Mari and he is not sure what to do about it. He tries texting, awkwardly, and then Archie visits Mari at her house. Things seem to be going well until Archie cracks a bad joke and Mari bursts into tears. Archie leaves mortified.

Mari, an African American girl adopted by a white family, is a prolific writer. She writes all of the adventures for the group's Dungeons & Dragons games as well as stories of her own, including speculative fiction about her birth mother, whom she knows nothing about. Spending time with her adoptive mother one day, she receives the horrifying news that her mother has cancer. The disease is quite advanced and it seems likely she will die. The news sends Mari reeling, but there is more. Her mother reveals that she has been corresponding with Mari's birth mother. She begs Mari to consider reaching out to the woman.

Dante, a shy, nonathletic, African American teenager with the body of a linebacker, is a computer geek who works for a fast food chain. He lives with his religious grandparents. They are kind and supportive until he is outed as gay by his nephews. His grandparents march him to their pastor, who tells him that being gay is sinful and wrong. They take away his phone and his car. Still, Dante feels some measure of relief in being outed. After an awkward Internet date (the man turns out to be Archie's father; nothing remiss happens), he begins the process of accepting himself and resolves to tell his friends.

Sam, a Filipino teenager with bad grades and smoking habit, is in love with Sarah, his longtime girlfriend and next-door neighbor. Sam loves Sarah to distraction; his grades are suffering and so is his attitude. All he does is watch science-fiction movies and wait for her to call. Sarah is clearly losing interest in their relationship, but Sam refuses to see the writing on the wall. He soon discovers that Sarah is moving to Seattle with her father. She breaks up with him and in the morning, she is gone.

Each running from his or her own demons, the group agrees to embark with Sam on a cross-country road trip as he attempts to win Sarah back. Along the way, they meet a hitchhiker named Sunshine outside of Chicago, two gay married couples in Minnesota, and a trucker looking for a cigarette in North Dakota. All have wisdom to spare. Archie and Mari get together, Mari reads a letter from her birth mother, and Dante comes out to his friends. But as the road trip continues, tempers flare. Archie insults Dante, and Sam almost runs Archie over with the car. The car, old and beat up, explodes several hours from Seattle. A friendly police trooper comes to their rescue and the group reaches the city in time to see Sarah getting out of school. Sam decides to let her walk away, oblivious to his presence, with her new friends. After one last harrowing scene in which Dante is beaten unconscious in a vicious, gay-bashing attack, the group heads home.

Critical Evaluation

Ribay's novel explores its characters' lives like "parallel universes." Although Archie, Mari, Dante, and Sam are friends, the most personal aspects of their lives are unknown to one another as if each inhabits his or her on private universe. Through this multifaceted lens, Ribay touches on weighty topics such as transracial adoption, divorce, homophobia and the struggles of coming out, and terminal illness. Traveling, both literally and metaphorically through books and games, is a running theme in An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes. In the game Dungeons & Dragons, players assume the roles of specific characters and embark on a quest. Players never know exactly what kind of dangers they might face along the way, which is why, as illustrated in the novel, it is particularly helpful for characters journeying together to possess complementary traits. For example, a warrior is necessary for a quest but so is a healer. An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes is also significant for normalizing diverse friendships. It celebrates unique differences for their own sake but makes a powerful argument for diverse friendships; Archie, Mari, Dante and Sam help each other in unquantifiable ways simply by being themselves.

Further Reading

  • Review of An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes, by Randy Ribay. Kirkus, 5 Aug. 2015, www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/randy-ribay/an-infinite-number-of-parallel-universes. Accessed 28 Nov. 2016.
  • Review of An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes, by Randy Ribay. Publishers Weekly, 1 Oct. 2015, www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4405-8814-3. Accessed 28 Nov. 2016.
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