Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Before Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly won the 2018 Newbery Medal for Distinguished Children’s Literature, I heard lots of buzz for the title. Receiving the award prompted me to finally pick it up, and discover what made so many people fall in love with it. A few pages in and it was clear: there truly is something special about this book.

Hello, Universe is about a diverse group of kids and the grand adventure that brings them together. Virgil is quiet and considerate, and out of place amongst his loud, sports-obsessed family. Valencia is deaf, incredibly smart and more in tune with nature than most kids her age. Kaori is a resourceful, self-proclaimed child psychic, supported by her doting younger sister Gen, and receives her business exclusively from Virgil. The book even touches on the bully Chet’s point of view. The book switches flawlessly from each perspective, bringing new information and enlightenment with each point of view.

When Chet throws Virgil’s beloved hamster down a well, Virgil attempts to rescue his pet and becomes trapped in the well too. An advertisement for Kaori’s child psychic "business" displayed by Virgil at the local grocery store brings Valencia to Kaori and Gen, who set off to find Virgil when he goes missing.

Hello, Universe is driven by friendship, and revolves around the ingenuity of the children who narrate the story. The events of Virgil’s time trapped in the well are intense, and at times, stressful due to the author’s wicked use of dramatic irony. Though taking place in the real world, the story incorporates mystical elements through the children’s imaginations. The characters are wonderful, well-developed and memorable: Virgil for his sensitivity, Valencia for her intelligence, Kaori for her imaginative spirit and Gen for her humor. Even Chet serves a purpose; his dialogue shows the warped, flawed perspective held by any bully.

For similar titles by comparison of both plot and diverse representation, try Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan, The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier.

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