hello universeThis is the story of Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet, and their journey to friendship.

Erin Entrada Kelly’s 2018 Newbery Medal Winner has given a very important voice to diversity while at the same time disproving stereotypes.  This character-driven novel reads like one of the fables, told by Virgil’s grandmother or Lola, interspersed throughout the book.

Virgil is an introvert in a family of extraverts and can’t quite find a way to stand up to bullies, including his own family, who call him by a nickname he despises.  Valencia is feeling the weight of parents who are overprotective, she suspects because of her hearing loss. Kaori, who is on her third life, is the reincarnation of an Egyptian and a freedom fighter from Bangladesh. Chet Bullens is the school bully who hasn’t quite figured out what he’s good at in life and so points out perceived flaws in others.

According to Kaori, and her little sister Gen, the four are in the hands of Destiny during the few days in which the story takes place.  Virgil encounters Chet while on his way to seek fortune telling advice from Kaori and fate is set into motion.  When Virgil falls down an abandoned well he learns to conquer some of his fears.  The author deeply explores the sensory experience of Virgil while in the well, bringing the reader right along into his nightmare.

Virgil’s friends, Kaori and Valencia have to “feel” their way into finding Virgil, whose cell phone fell out of his pocket and shattered during his fall.  We are treated to the eccentric Kaori consulting star charts to divine the fate of Virgil.  Will the friends rescue Virgil or will his fears be realized when his bones are found in the well, beside the bones of his guinea pig, years into the future?

The funny, feel-good tone of this book compliments the pace.  The suspense builds to a climactic, if somewhat predictable ending, which is nonetheless satisfying. What a wonderful breath of fresh air to read about children who are ability diverse as “children” without their differences defining their character.

An important read for children 3rd grade and up.  This book is extensively quotable and would make a great classroom read-aloud.  Perhaps the plot is best summarized with this quote from Valencia, “Meanness always shows on people’s faces.  Sometimes you have to look hard for it.  Sometimes it’s just a part of a person’s features.”

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