Hello, Universe - Erin Entrada Kelly

Review for…

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kind-hearted and feels out of place in his loud and boisterous family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister Gen is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just act normal so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends -- at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.

What a delightful surprise this book was. I went in expecting something like the Newberry award winners we were forced to read in school, satisfying enough but not terribly memorable. However, this was a whole other beast.

With several narrators, Hello, Universe is a sweet and riveting story about reluctant friendship, overcoming bullies and getting lost in the woods.

The shy Virgil who would like to be friends with the new girl in his Resource Room, where teachers help them with their learning disabilities. What an amazing character, despite his insecurities he’s so thoughtful and creative. I love how seriously he took Kaori, the girl who reads fortunes, and how he wasn’t a stereotype. The way kids in the resource room are often portrayed is as a story, or a tragedy to be saved, but he’s got a lot going on, and he’s only shown to be “special” when he’s teased for being bad at math by the bully.

Valencia, who wears hearing aids and is growing used to being alone. She likes to exploring and discovering new things. Valencia was a really endearing character. I liked how she was smart and kind of pretending to be happier alone, but even when she wanted to talk to the church people, I got that feeling that she was happy that anyone would talk to her. She had become tough because she had to.

Kaori the eccentric psychic who interprets dreams with her sister Gen. Their only rule: NO ADULTS ALLOWED. As an adult I understood where she was coming from and I loved her little sister. I wonder if kids liked this book as much as I did?

It's also about the bully who pulls the unbelievable prank on Gulliver, Virgil's guinea pig, that brings them all together one summer day. The bully, by the way, is not really presented as totally sympathetic, but seeing what he’s like from his POV and seeing what his dad is like, but also what his fears are, especially at the end, made it more powerful. This all made the small movement that Virgil makes to stand up to him that much more impactful.

This book has “own voices” Filipino rep as well as a deaf character, a Japanese character and characters who have learning disabilities and are bullied. Please be aware that one of the adults says some hurtful things about disabled folks. If you or your child will find that discomforting please remember to practice self-care while reading. I can share specifics if necessary.

In the end, I really liked imagining Virgil and Valencia hanging out. Kaori too of course, but mostly Valencia and Virgil.

Pages: 320
Year: 14 March 2017
Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Read: 25 September 2017 to 1 October 2017
Stars: 4 (really liked it)