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Winner of the Newbery Medal
“A charming, intriguingly plotted novel.”—Washington Post
Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe is a funny and poignant neighborhood story about unexpected friendships.
Told from four intertwining points of view—two boys and two girls—the novel celebrates bravery, being different, and finding your inner bayani (hero). “Readers will be instantly engrossed in this relatable neighborhood adventure and its eclectic cast of misfits.”—Booklist
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she 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 stop being so different so 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 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 acclaimed and award-winning author of Blackbird Fly and The Land of Forgotten Girls writes with an authentic, humorous, and irresistible tween voice that will appeal to fans of Thanhha Lai and Rita Williams-Garcia.
“Readers across the board will flock to this book that has something for nearly everyone—humor, bullying, self-acceptance, cross-generational relationships, and a smartly fateful ending.”—School Library Journal
1. What is Virgil like as a person? When he describes the rest of his family, he says he feels “like unbuttered toast standing next to them” (p. 4). What does he mean by that simile? How does he think he compares to his brothers? How does his experience in the well affect him?
2. How does Lola’s arrival help Virgil? What is she like, and what’s her role in the family? Describe Lola’s exchange with Valencia. What do Valencia and Kaori think of her?
3. In more than one instance, Virgil wishes he could act as the “Alternate Virgil” (p. 39). How would he change himself if he could? How does the book’s title relate to Virgil’s hopes about changing? What changes does he actually make by the end of the book?
4. Describe Valencia’s personality and her interests. What is her nightmare, and why can’t she ask her mother for help? How do people, including her parents, treat her differently because she’s deaf? Give specific examples.
5. Valencia explains that she prays to Saint Rene. Who is he and why does she pray to him? In the well, Virgil talks to Ruby San Salvador. Who is she and how is she helpful to him? What does this tell you about Valencia and Virgil and how they are alike? What else do they have in common?
6. Discuss Chet’s character and how he treats other kids. Why do you think he’s so unkind? What messages does he get from his father? How do you think those affect his actions?
7. Identify the different points of view that the author uses throughout the novel. How do the points of view differ by chapter? Why do you think the author chose to focus different chapters on different characters and use different points of view?
8. Kaori likes to tell people that “her parents were born in the high, misty mountains of a samurai village” (p. 26). What does this reveal about her character? Describe her interest in psychic matters and how that interest is important to the novel’s plot. Talk about her relationship to Gen, how they interact, and how their personalities compare.
9. Talk about the main characters’ names and nicknames in the novel. Why does Valencia call herself Renee? Discuss Kaori’s observation that Valencia seems proud of her real name, and the fact that “Kaori was fond of her name as well” (p. 265). What does Lola say about Valencia’s name? How does Virgil feel about his name and nickname? How does Chet’s last name lead to a nickname and relate to his character?
10. The author uses similes and metaphors to createa vivid narrative. For example, Virgil’s crying is compared to a faucet, starting on p. 243 and picking up again on p. 245. Discuss the effect of the metaphor and why the author extends it. On p. 244, Virgil thinks of his family as speaking “in exclamation points.” What images does that create in your mind? Find other figures of speech and discuss their impact on the reader.
Erin Entrada Kelly has received numerous awards and recognition for her work, including the 2018 Newbery Medal for Hello, Universe, a 2021 Newbery Honor for We Dream of Space, the 2017 APALA Award for The Land of Forgotten Girls, and the 2016 Golden Kite Honor Award for Blackbird Fly, among many other honors. She is also the author and illustrator of the Marisol Rainey collection.
She is a New York Times bestseller whose work has been translated into several languages. Her fifth book, Lalani of the Distant Sea, was a finalist for the 2020 Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Fantasy and was named one of the best books of the year by the New York Public Library, The Horn Book, Booklist, BookPage, and others.
Before becoming a children’s author, Erin worked as a journalist and magazine editor. She received numerous awards for community service journalism, feature writing, and editing from the Louisiana Press Association and the Associated Press.
Erin has a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and liberal arts from McNeese State University and an MFA from Rosemont College. She lives in Delaware. She teaches in the MFA programs at Hamline University and Rosemont College. She also teaches fiction with Gotham Writers Workshop.