Reading/Interest Level: Intermediate
Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
The universe collides one summer day when a shy kid, a psychic, a bully, and a deaf girl find themselves in a dangerous situation. To seek help with overcoming his shyness, Virgil ventures to visit Kaori, the psychic, only to be thwarted by Chet, who bullies him into handing over his guinea pig, tossing it down an old well. Virgil desperately climbs down into the well to rescue his pet but gets trapped! Hours of silence and darkness provide Virgil an opportunity to contemplate how he will face his shyness if he ever gets saved. He realizes that he can't be brave without first being afraid. When Valencia, facing her own nightmare of loneliness, meets Kaori that afternoon, the two realize that Virgil is missing. With a jump rope, a snakebite, and a few hunches, Kaori and Valencia succeed in outwitting Chet and saving Virgil.
The strength of Hello, Universe is its character development, rather than an action-packed plot. Each character reflects on his or her life and various relationships throughout the chapters. The novel sheds light on realistic struggles these adolescents face as they try to gain self-confidence and trust those around them. However, while Virgil, Kaori, and Valencia undergo a change of heart in how they view themselves and interact with others, Chet (the bully) remains unchanged. The author drops Chet's character abruptly to focus on the others. Another elusive element of the novel is the author’s choice to voice only Valencia’s chapters in the first person, even though the plot focuses more heavily on Virgil’s predicament and self-discovery. This novel suggests that coincidences have less to do with personal happiness than deliberate choices, a refreshing message for young readers that change is possible with the right attitude.