Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Virgil Salinas, an 11 year old Filipino-American boy, is shy, painfully shy, more than a bit fearful, and to make matter worse, his family calls him Turtle because of his shyness, a nickname Virgil despises. Added to that are twin younger brothers who, Virgil believes, “were crafted out of a factory that made perfect, athletic, perpetually happy children, and he was made from all the leftover parts.” But Virgil does have his grandmother Lola, and he is her favorite. Lola is always telling Virgil stories from her home in the Philippines, most with a simple life lesson, which he always enjoys hearing. And then there’s Gulliver, his hamster, a good friend who is always willing to listen to Virgil and never judge.

Virgil also has a crush on Valencia Somerset, although he has never spoken to her, despite spending time together in the Thursday resource room with Mr. King. To help him overcome his shyness around Valencia, Virgil has sought the services of self-proclaimed psychic Kaori Tanaka, 12. And so, on the first day of summer vacation, Virgil sends a text to Kaori asking for an afternoon appointment to talk to her about Valencia again. Before heading off to his appointment with Kaori, Virgil carefully puts Gulliver into his backpack to take with him.

Valencia Somerset has not idea that Virgil likes her, in fact, she doesn't really know him at all. Valencia is also hearing impaired and consequently, she has two overprotective parents, so she isn’t allowed to go out and about like the other kids. But she is allowed to explore the nearby woods and take notes in her zoological diary. Valencia is also plagued by a recurring nightmare where she finds herself the only person on earth after a solar eclipse. Disturbed by the dream, Valencia also decides to seek advice from Kaori after seeing her ‘business card’ on the supermarket bulletin board. 

Kaori Tanaka knows that she should have been born in the high misty mountains of a samurai village even though she is really third-generation Japanese American. How else could she explain the gift of second sight if not from someplace magical. With her younger ardent jump roping sister Gen as her assistant, Kaori takes her life as a psychic very seriously, even if Virgil has been her only client so far.

That is until the first Saturday of summer vacation, when Kaori finds she that she actually has two appointments, Virgil at 12 noon, Valencia at 1:00 PM. 

As Virgil sets out with Gulliver, crossing through the woods to Kaori’s house, he unfortunately meets Chet Bullens, class bully with Virgil always in his sights. Sure enough, Chet takes Virgil’s backpack and tosses it down an old, dried up well, Gulliver and all. In his attempt to rescue his hamster, Virgil gets down the well, but can’t get up.

When Virgil fails to show up for his appointment, Kaori begins to wonder what happened. When Valencia shows up for hers, Kaori is still worried about Virgil. Not anxious to go home, Valencia offers to help Kaori and Gen look for him after her appointment. As the three set off, their search becomes a journey of self-discovery and new friendships, as well as ingenious and courageous actions.

In this character driven novel, Kelly gives young readers four very different viewpoints to consider, that of Virgil, Kaori, Valencia, and Chet, alternating them with each other. Told in the third person, Kelly creates an intimacy between reader and each character's inner thoughts and feelings as they navigate that one fateful Saturday, and life in general. Each is lonely and isolated in their own way, and in need of real friends. 

Each character is individual and original, and each will surely appeal to young readers. Kelly really knows how to flesh out the essence of each one of her characters and bestows on them a true sense of individuality. I think that is important when writing from a multi-character perspective, as Kelly does in Hello, Universe. But I had already noticed in her two earlier books, Blackbird Fly! and The Land of Forgotten Girls, that character is something she is particularly good at creating.

Chet, on the other hand, is a classic bully which makes him feel very stereotypical. But to have depicted him otherwise would make him a more sympathetic character and that would diminish him as a foil for Virgil and Valencia. I can live with this stereotypical bully because Kelly has written such wonderfully diverse characters in Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and even Gen.

Hello, Universe is a neighborhood novel filled with folk tales that become object lessons (thanks to grandma Lola, and luckily for Virgil), courage, hope, humor, and some really great kids (not Chet) that is sure to please young readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon Messenger at Book Ramblings, and Plenty of Shenanigans


  1. I do hope Chet Bullens gets his comeuppance before the end of the story. There is and probably always will be a Chet Bullens in every walk of life, and I often wonder what their story is. They can’t be born bullies any more than someone can be born outgoing or shy. There is probably another story in that – or several stories in fact.

  2. I'm dying to read this book! I loved Erin Entrada Kelly's first two books. And I'm intrigued that she's tackling four different POVs in this one. Thanks for the thorough review.

  3. This sounds wonderful though I'm not a fan multiple viewpoints beyond two. I'll add this to my tbr list anyway based on the great focused plot. Thanks for sharing.

  4. This sounds like a very fresh take. I will check it out. Thanks for the review.


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