I am so excited to finally be back with a review! Lately, I find myself going through reading phases where I read 3-4 Newbery winners in a row. And then I get to blog about them in a row! Today I am excited to share my thoughts on Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly, the 2018 winner of the Newbery Medal.
This story is endearing and hopeful and suspenseful. I would describe it as a cross between Wonder and The View from Saturday. I loved it.
- I did not know what to expect with this novel. The description sounds intriguing but I wasn’t sure if it would be really scary or how it would end. It was delightful. I’m so glad to have read it!
- The pictures connected with each character’s perspective were really helpful to keep the voices straight. Although it did take me a few chapters to get everyone straight.
According to Goodreads, “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.”
The characters in this book are fantastic because they are realistic, flawed people who are looking for friendship and belonging (just like all of us). If I had to pick a favorite character, it would probably be grandma Lola because she is hilarious and tells great stories. She also has such a strong awareness of other people and treats everyone with respect and love. Of the four main characters, my favorite was probably Valencia. She doesn’t let her disability hinder her as a person. She is confident and smart and owns who she is. I admired her courage and her strength. I love that she finds great friends in the end. I also loved that they all had the potential to change. By the end of the novel, each of the main characters had made steps to change. Some bigger than others but all were seeing the world in new ways.
I loved the multiple perspectives in this book. It’s fun to get inside the head of all four main characters and see their different backgrounds. I really enjoyed Valencia and Virgil’s perspectives. They are so different but both powerful. Valencia is so confident and passionate despite her disability. And Virgil is so passive and shy. I love his grandma Lola and her awesome Filipino stories! Those were so fun to read and to see how they affected him later. It was interesting to get inside Chett’s head. That reminded me of Wonder because that’s the only other book I can think of that takes us inside a bully’s head. Fascinating to see how he thinks. Kaori is hilarious. Her second sight is great. I loved her relationship with her sister Gen and the ways they accept Valencia so quickly. It was also fun to see how she portrayed herself to others versus some of the uncertainties going on inside her head. Getting inside all their heads helped me see how things I assume are often wrong. And that everyone needs a friend no matter how strong they are.
The discussion of fate versus coincidence that continues throughout this story is fascinating. Do things just happen by chance? Is there a God bringing people together? Are some friendships meant to be? I enjoyed the discussion of these ideas both between characters and inside their heads. It’s hard to explain the plot of this book because there are so many important details that bring the characters together. Virgil visits Kaori who asks him to put up her business card. Valencia happens to see the card and goes over the day Chet pulls an awful prank on Virgil. All these details come together for a great story. And I am certainly left feeling certain that there is a God and that there are some people we are meant to meet.
The ending is clever and satisfying. I appreciate that each character is able to change as the story concludes. There is a lot of potential for a sequel as well which would be so fun! I felt like I was just getting to know the characters as the book ended (it takes place primarily over one day) so I was left wanting more from each of them. The ending line is fantastic.
Why did this novel win the Newbery Medal? I think there are so many reasons this is an award winner: the clever storytelling, vibrant and dynamic characters, engaging writing style, and intriguing themes (faith, fate, friendship, self worth). Plus, it does all that in only one day of action. An impressive feat and a well deserved winner!
I bought this book soon after reading it because it deserves a spot in my home library. I can’t wait to reread this with my kids one day! Highly recommended!
What are your favorite middle grade novels with multiple perspectives?
Which Newbery winner should I read next?
I read this Newbery Medal winner as a part of my Newbery Challenge.
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2022, the year the 100th winner is announced.