Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly – Book Review by Lynne R. Dorfman
“The stars tell us everything. It’s fate, Gen. Fate in the stars. There are no coincidences.” (p. 101)
The 2018 Newberry Award winner by Erin Entrada for middle schoolers will capture them in its honesty, its mystery, and its charm. The book is written in short, easy-to-read chapters in the perspectives of the four main characters: Kaori Tanaka, a third-generation Japanese-American who is a gifted psychic and young entrepreneur; Virgil Salinas, an eleven-year-old Filipino-American who is often called “Turtle” by his parents; Valencia Somerset, a deaf girl who happens to be this incredibly independent and confident, and Chet “the Bull” Bullens, an insecure and friendless bully. Amazingly, the entire story takes place in the span of one day when these characters’ lives intersect.
Chet, the bully in the story, tries to intimidate both Valencia who wears a hearing aid and reads lips by calling her deafo and the shy, quiet Virgil who goes to a class for special help in school by calling him retardo and moron. Although bullying is not the focus, it is skillfully woven into the course of events, and readers get a glimpse of the factors that perhaps created Chet’s need to be cruel to others that he views as inferior. Hello, Universe is really a story of courage, friendship, and hard-to-explain coincidences that lead readers to wonder about the mysterious workings of the universe that help us discover things about ourselves we have not imagined.
When Chet throws Virgil’s backpack down an old well, he does not know that Virgil’s guinea pig Gulliver is nestled inside. Virgil must be brave and try to rescue his pet, but discovers he is not tall enough to reach the ladder to climb back out. Filled with suspense, readers await his rescue (and of course, Gulliver’s, too!). The Filipino folktales and a wise grandmother create a unique layer to this work of fiction. Wait for the last sentence in the book – but don’t peek. The final word will make you feel like you should stand up and cheer!
Lynne Dorfman was a literacy coach for the Upper Moreland School District where she taught for 38 years. She serves the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project as a Co-director and is an adjunct professor at Arcadia University. Together with Rose Cappelli, Lynne has authored three books on the teaching of writing published by Stenhouse Publishers. She is writing a new book for Stenhouse with Stacey Shubitz called Welcome to Writing Workshop. When Lynne has free time, she likes to work in the garden, walk the Welsh Corgis, or read a good book.