Hello, Universeby Published 14 Mar 2017
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.
"Hello, Universe" Reviews
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.
Feeling upon completion: Underwhelmed.
Reaction to Hello, Universe winning the 2018 Newbery Medal: Baffled.
when i say i want diversity in books.........this sh*t is what i mean y'all.
i'm talking effortless, narrative-enriching, full characters who are not defined by their diversity but, at the same time, are affected by it.
EVERYONE TAKE NOTES. EVERYONE.
also, no romance. a romance-like narrative that instead of a romance is about FRIENDSHIP. i swear to you all i love middle grade so much it hurts me. whenever you're getting so tired of YA you could scream (and i know it happens)...middle grade is exactly what you are looking for. it will heal your tired soul.
this book wasn't a nonstop crazefest of fun and festivity (in other words, not terribly exciting), but it wasn't annoying. and it was diverse. and the characters were full.
and sometimes that's all you need my dear boy.
but also i wish this was illustrated.
bottom line: thoughts of this book may well carry me through the next several inevitable sh*tty young adult books. i am empowered and strong and ready. READ THIS BOOK I THINK
L O O K A T T H I S C O V E R
look at it!!!!!
“There are no coincidences.”
I was trying to read this book along with Amina's Voice, but quickly realized it wasn’t working in my favor me because as Ron Swanson likes to say, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” So I decided to dedicate my sole attention on this tale, and it was beyond magical.
• We have a phenomenal first chapter from the pov of eleven-year-old Virgil Salinas with a supporting grandmother that tells of her dreams and stories!!
• We also have an incredible cast of diverse characters who won over my heart:
- Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his loud and boisterous Filipino-American family.
- Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature.
- Kaori Tanaka, whose family is Japanese-American, is a self-proclaimed psychic with a little sister Gen as her second-in-command.
• Can we take a minute to talk about how Kaori is one of my favorite characters... I genuinely had the bouts of insta-love the minute this twelve-year-old that doesn't sound like a twelve-year-old because, as she likes to say, “I’m the reincarnated spirit of a 65-year-old freedom fighter” was introduced!!
“Kaori was mildly surprised to get a text from one of her clients (her only client, truth be told) on the first day of summer, particularly at seven forty-five in the morning. But the night before, just as she was gliding to sleep, she’d had the vision of a hawk perched on a giant fence post. Only now she realized it must have been a vulture, not a hawk. And vulture started with V, just like Virgil’s name. The connection couldn’t have been clearer.”
This girl with “her powers of second sight” is something else...
• the humor is on point:
“Something will happen to you,” Kaori continued.
Virgil looked at Gen. She shrugged.
“That’s it?” said Virgil. “Something will happen to me?”
“I see darkness,” said Kaori.
“Your eyes are closed.”
Honestly, dare I say iconic... both for making me laugh out loud and for the subtle foreshadowing thrown in from the author (which I'd thought at first to be just her having a laugh). But circling back to the humor, these brilliantly vivid characters reminded me of the kids from Stranger Things being their best selves on TV!!
• And moving on to Virgil's Lola - aka the best literary grandmother ever - she was a force of nature. I could always count on her old ghost stories and dreams to fully capture my spirit. Also, she's just one hell of a supportive adult!!!
“Sorry, Lola,” Virgil muttered. “I was just thinking about something that happened on the last day of school.”
Lola tossed the garbage pizza in the cart. “What? What happen?” She was always ready to hear gossip, no matter where it came from.”
This is me. This is who I am.
• So as Kaori had foretold to Virgil - “What I mean is, I see you in a dark place.” “Dark how?” “Just dark.” - he'd gotten trapped at the bottom of an old well thanks to the worst of humans throwing Virgil's backpack, which had Gulliver, his pet guinea pig, in it. Which is also when I noticed what the cover, though absolutely gorgeous, happens to spoil if you'd skipped reading the blurb.
• Oh, and circling back to the worst of humans, I have only one thing to say to the bully, Chet Bullens, whose family is probably full of Trump supporters…
• On a more positive note, there's some magical realism aspects thrown in to further enchant my heart.
• And the story continues full of busy happenings that lead to friendship, kinship and family. In the end, I just ended up adoring this group of explorers. Plus, I really hope Tanaka and Somerset will go into business as promised. (Maybe we'll even get a sequel/ novella on that idea...)
• And last but not last, I was as joyful as my girl Valencia from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend when the story ended on such sweet and hopeful note.
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Since it was the 2018 Newbery Medal winner I may have had too high expectations. I thought that the diversity was spot on though. There were great relationship building experiences and lots of adventure thrown in. I hate that the word retard was used so often. I really felt like it could have been left out. There was no "lesson learned" from using it, and truthfully this really brought the book down for me.
My blog review:
There is a certain kind of book that can be tricky for me, a quiet, but emotionally powerful book. I see such books as teetering on tightropes --- balancing just right the heartstrings-tugging, the poignancy, the tenderness, the provoking-of-tears. Too much and I feel manipulated, too little and I just don't care. It is for this reason I was wary when beginning Erin Entrada Kelly's Hello, Universe, but I needn't have been. It is to my mind an exemplar of this sort of book ---- quiet, introspective, moving, witty, and emotional in all the right ways. I liked it so much, in fact, that I've added it to my goodread's Newbery list. Yes indeed, I think it is that good.
The novel takes place in a single day featuring four middle schoolers. In the center is Virgil Salinas, a highly introverted member of a large extrovert family who call him Turtle "Because he wouldn't 'come out of his shell,' Every time they said it, a piece of him broke." The exception is his Filipina grandmother Lola who calls him Virgilio, gets him completely, and tells him folk tales to bolster him through life's challenges. Virgil has a crush on deaf and confident Valencia Somerset, but is too shy to let her know. And so he has become a client of the young physic Kaori Tanaka who, with her younger sister Gen, intends to help him. Last of all there is Chet Bullens who has bullied Virgil unceasingly.
An encounter in the woods with Chet leaves Virgil in a life-threatening situation. Readers are firmly with him as he reacts to this, tries to figure out what to do, and considers some of Lola's tales as a way to build strength in a dire moment. Here is where my admiration for Kelly's writing really takes hold as she masterfully balances the emotionally of Virgil's circumstances on that tightrope without a misstep. The threads of the other characters move in and out of Virgil's difficulty. We get in Chet's head and, while we learn more about what may have turned him so mean, we don't forgive him for it. Kaori's adult-like serene style is delightfully balanced with her little sister Gen's humorously typical second-grader behavior. Interestingly, while these character storylines are all in third person, Valencia's is in first person; from her tolerance of her father calling her an endearment she could do without to her forthright response to Chet, we easily see how crush-worthy she is.
There is suspense as we hold our breath wondering how Virgil will be saved, there is humor (especially from little Gen), and there is the slow evolution of different personalities, and of what will be, we can be certain, a warm friendship between Virgil, Valencia, and Kaori beyond the book's ending. It may be this is a book for introverts? I can't say, but it provided all that I want in a book for children --- an intriguing plot, beautifully articulated characters, tight and elegant sentences, wit, and opportunity for thought. Hello, Universe is one quiet, emotional book that I recommend highly.