Neighborhood adventure with a twist
Virgil's family calls him "Turtle" because he won't come out of his shell. His parents are both busy nurses, but his grandmother seems to understand him, and comforts him with stories. He has a crush on a girl in his class, Valencia, but doesn't know how to talk to her, so he consults Kaori, a girl who gives "psychic advice". Virgil also has to put up with local bully, Chet. When Chet throws Virgil's backpack down an abandoned well, he panics because his hamster, Gulliver, is in the pack, and jumps down into the well to retrieve him, and then is stuck. Valencia, whose deafness causes her some issues when dealing with others, is out in the woods observing squirrels on her way to get advice from Kaori, and vaguely notices the shift, but thinks little of it. When she arrives at Kaori's, Kaori is waiting for Virgil and voices her concern over his disappearance. The girls decide to investigate, and wisely start by asking his grandmother. Eventually, they come across Chet in the woods: he has been torturing snakes and has been bitten by one. All of the events come together, and Virgil is rescued from the well, tentative friendships are formed, and the adventure is neatly wrapped up.
Virgil's grandmother plays an interesting role, sharing Filipino legends with him in order to make him stronger. One of these, about Ruby San Salvador, helps him when he is stuck in the well, since he has lengthy conversations with the spirit while waiting for help to arrive.
Readers who enjoy books with diverse casts but a general feeling of sadness such as Rivers' The Girl in the Well is Me, Appelt's Maybe a Fox or Spinelli's Eggs will find Hello' Universe to be a complicated blend of social issues framed in a classic neighborhood adventure story.
"Hello, Universe" is a really fantastic tween/middle grade story about four tweens during one eventful day. We get each of their perspectives, and they are all unique and well-developed characters. We begin with Virgil, whose family is loud, boisterous and calls him Turtle (which he doesn't like), and he is an easy character to love- he's shy and quiet and wishes he could ask one of his classmates to be his friend, but can't quite work up the courage. Valencia is smart, brave, and deaf, but she won't let anyone drag her down- certainly not Chet who is a bully and picks on Virgil a lot. Even Chet seems to be a product of his father but will learn a lot. Kaori is a delightful addition, a 12-year-old psychic who only works with kids and will absolutely make you laugh out loud throughout.
Together, they make this an unforgettable and delightful story of being a tween and all the issues that entails- with family, bullies, friendships, identities and everything. The character development here is really incredible, and I would highly recommend it to all tweens. The inclusion of some main characters who happen to be deaf and their struggles/triumphs is also a wonderful addition to an already fantastic book. If you have a middle grade reader or tween, you won't want to miss out on this one!
Please note that I received an ARC through a goodreads giveaway. All opinions are my own.