(No actual dueling—or even arm-twisting—was involved. Don’t worry, this is a dual review, not a duel review. Sorry if you’re disappointed.)
Danielle Hammelef was the latest winner of my Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up “Make Me Read It” giveaway, and she chose to make me read Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. I’d bought this book since it was the 2018 Newbery Medal winner, and I was excited that Danielle chose it for us to read!
Read on to see what we thought of the book…
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
Illustrator: Isabel Roxas
Published by Greenwillow Books on March 14, 2017
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary
My content rating: MG (Some bullying)
Winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted 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.
A quiet middle grade read about the connections between us and the mysterious ways that fate can bring us together.
What Fed Our Addiction:
Valencia’s experiences as a deaf child. I think my favorite character in this book was Valencia. She’s got a certain strength to her, even as she’s dealing with difficult situations (like her best friend ditching her when it gets too “hard” to communicate with her). I connected to this character right away, and I loved seeing a deaf child portrayed and the struggles that might go along with fitting into a world that doesn’t always quite accept you. But even though Valencia has to deal with lost friendships and bullies, she doesn’t ever let it crush her spirit—her positivity and strength flows off the page!
Strong friendships. This book centered on themes of friendship and finding “our people” in unexpected places and ways. The possibility of friendship between Virgil and Valencia is what drives the story (he’s wanted to talk to Valencia all year long but hasn’t been able to bring himself to do it), but it also ends up bringing Kaori into Valencia’s life (and Kaori’s little sister Gen, who’s adorable!).
DANIELLE SAYS: Friendship and family themes are my favorites in middle grade contemporary, so this book hit the mark for me.
Fate. I loved the idea that fate was at work, driving these characters together in mysterious ways! There were a lot of religious themes explored as well. (Though I don’t know that any one religious worldview was portrayed particularly thoroughly—it was sort of a mish-mosh. There was some talk of saints, mysticism, spirits, and a general sense that someone or thing was bringing these kids together). I appreciated the idea that some people are meant to be part of each other’s lives.
DANIELLE SAYS: I have a love/hate relationship with fate, especially with my own life and religious views. I have never minded reading and getting to know others who have different religious views as this is how I grow as a person.
NICOLE SAYS: Yes, I put this in the positives because I liked the idea of the kids being brought together, and I like the idea of exploring religious views, but my little aside was actually more of a negative, I suppose. I wouldn’t say I was offended by the way anything was portrayed, but I was left wondering about some of it.
Virgil in the well. The tension in the book ratcheted up 1000% once Virgil got stuck in that well. That’s the point where I didn’t want to stop reading. The book gained a true sense of danger at this point, and I was scared for poor Virgil!
DANIELLE SAYS: Yes, this is when the book gets really going and I enjoyed all the friends trying to figure out what happened and put the clues together.
What Left Us Hungry for More:
Little slow to start. Like I said, things definitely picked up once Virgil was in the well, but the pacing felt a little slow before that. I also thought more of the book was going to center on actually getting him out of the well, but that isn’t necessarily a negative, but more of an expectation I had that wasn’t met.
NICOLE SAYS: Good point about Chet. I was actually thinking we might have gotten a little bit more from him, but he really was just there to be the bully, which was a little disappointing.
So, that wraps it up. I’m glad Danielle Made Me Read this book!
About the Author
Erin Entrada Kelly received the 2018 Newbery Medal for Hello, Universe, the 2017 APALA Award for The Land of Forgotten Girls, and the 2016 Golden Kite Honor Award for Blackbird Fly, among other honors. She is a New York Times bestseller whose work has been translated into several languages. Netflix is currently adapting Hello, Universe into a feature film.
Erin is also a short story writer. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction and the Pushcart Prize. She has a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and liberal arts from McNeese State University and an MFA from Rosemont College.
Have you read this one? What did you think? We want to know!