Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly, 320 pp, RL 4

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
Winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal
School Library Copy 
purchased with District Funds

With Hello, Universe, Kelly draws together four disparate middle schoolers who find their way to each other, some through cruelty and pain, others through observation and even divination. How Kelly weaves their connections and experiences together is both quiet and dramatic. She begins her story with eleven-year-old Virgil Salinas, a Fillipino-American living with his boisterous family. His older brothers are athletic and outgoing, causing his parents to call the shy, quiet Virgil, "Turtle," because he doesn't come out of his shell. Every time they call him this name, "a piece of him broke." Fortunately, his grandmother, his "Lola," sees and loves Virgil for who he is. Lola has possibly prophetic dreams that, along with stories and fables from her homeland, she shares with Virgil. Sharing yet another dream-story with him about boys who get eaten "by stuff like rocks and crocodiles," (this one, which has been recurring, is about a boy who gets eaten by a stone), Lola tells Virgil, "If you decide to talk, you come find your Lola. Don't burst like a fountain and float away."

Valencia Somerset is deaf and she has been having a recurring nightmare. An uncomfortable encounter with the aptly named bully Chet Bullens  leads her to the community bulletin board where she discovers the business card of Kaori Tanaka, "Psychic - New Clients Welcome - NO ADULTS," pinned up earlier in the day by Kaori's friend and client, Virgil. With this intricate, utterly believable dance set in motion, it's a waiting game to see how and when their paths will cross and if they will put the puzzle pieces together that will save their friend who is trapped in a well.

With Virgil, Valentina and Kaori, Kelly has created characters who are as engaging as they are authentic. It was joyful to watch them find their way to each other, connect with and understand each other. The character of the bully felt a little two dimensional for me as an adult, but for young readers it will be a meaningful experience for them to see how hatred and prejudices are passed from parent to child.

More by Erin Entrada Kelly

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