Review Detail

Kids Fiction 1850
Neighborhood adventure with a twist
(Updated: June 08, 2017)
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
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.
Good Points
It's difficult to write understandable and distinct characters in alternating chapters, but Kelly does a good job of this, even though some chapters are in first person and others are in third. Virgil's fear of everything is palpable but not overdone, Valencia's eccentricities and interest in animals are quirky but endearing, and even Kaori's business interest in psychic readings (and her attempt to advertising them on a message board in town without getting in trouble with her parents) is portrayed realistically. Adults, rather than being absent, are hovering at the edges so that there can be adventure but also help if situations get out of hand.

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.
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