HELLO, UNIVERSE by Erin Entrada Kelly

HELLO, UNIVERSE won the 2018 Newbery Medal, it’s a heartwarming adventure story with diverse characters and complicated relationships at its heart. Four middle grade students are thrown together when Bully Chet’s actions set off a chain of events that put Virgil’s life in danger. The story had us turning the pages to find out what would happen next…

The Story: Virgil has been visiting psychic Kaori in the hopes that she can help him find a way to talk to his schoolmate Valencia. On the way to a meeting with Kaori, Virgil meets bully Chet in the woods, an encounter that leads Virgil to become trapped in a well. Kaori is worried when Virgil doesn’t arrive for their meeting and shares her worries with Valencia and her sister Gen. But how can they find out where Virgil is?

The characters are all very different. Eleven year old Virgil is extremely shy in comparison to his loud family but has a strong bond with his Filipino grandmother, Lola. Valencia is deaf, smart and loves everything about nature but is lonely. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic and Chet Bullens is a bully who doesn’t understand Virgil and Valencia’s special needs.

It’s hard to write a review of HELLO, UNIVERSE without giving any spoilers! Each character is brilliantly brought to life through interactions with others and the diversity of their cultures and special needs are woven through the story. Each character has flaws, some characters are more likeable than others, but the experiences that throw them together in the woods leads to significant developments in their relationships and perceptions of each other. 

We immediately warmed to Virgil and love the special bond he has with his guinea pig, Gulliver, who also plays a large part in the story. Despite the focus and the action being centred on the main characters we learn a lot about their families, their relationships with parents and siblings and the impact they have on the way that the characters behave. We love Lola and the stories that she tells, she has moved to America from The Philippines and understands Virgil in a way that the rest of his family don’t, it is her stories that give him strength when he becomes trapped.

The hearing difficulties that Valencia has are dealt with sensitively and gave us a new awareness of how everyday situations are impacted by deafness. Valencia is a strong, smart character who emerges as a leader and although she inadvertently adds to Virgil’s difficulties on her way to Kaori’s house she pieces together clues to work out where to find him.

We enjoyed HELLO, UNIVERSE and couldn’t stop reading to see how it would end. It was interesting to see the way that each character developed and how the bully got his comeuppance – to say any more than that would spoil the story…

Age Range: 9 +

Author: Erin Entrada Kelly

Thank you to Piccadilly Press for sending a review copy of HELLO, UNIVERSE. We couldn’t put it down!

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