Kelly, Erin Entrada. Hello, Universe. Fiction. Greenwillow, 03/2017. 313pp. $16.99. 978-0-06-241415-1. OUTSTANDING. GRADES 5-8.
The lives of four middle schoolers converge on the first day of summer, leading to a very mean prank, new friendships, and self-discovery. Chapters feature a segment of the day’s events from the viewpoint of each of the four characters. While each of these characters has eccentricities, their unique outlooks are treated with compassion and a dash of humor. Even the reasons for the cruelty of Chet, the neighborhood bully, becomes clear as he idolizes and emulates his smug, condescending father. Kelly seamlessly integrates identity into her characters. Virgil’s cultural identity appears through the traditional Filipino parables his grandmother shares and his family’s usage of the Cenuabo language. Kelly portrays Valencia’s deafness through social interactions and how she sees herself, and Valencia possesses much depth beyond her hearing impairment. Kelly thanks several deaf advocates, professors, and instructors in the book’s acknowledgements, showing the research she did to portray an authentic character. As unexpected coincidences bring these characters together, they rely on teamwork while discovering their personal abilities. Middle-grade readers will identify with the interpersonal layers at play, reflecting the social complexities of early adolescence.
Lolade Gbadebo, Oakland Public Library