Hello, Universe

Hello, Universe by Filipina American Erin Entrada Kelly (Blackbird Fly; Land of Forgotten Girls) is about the unlikely connections people make when they pay attention to the "letters" the universe is always sending.

The stories of four middle-school narrators are woven, Shakespearean comedy-style, in a web of crossed paths. The four collide when a bully named Chet Bullens tosses 11-year-old Filipino American Virgil Salinas's purple backpack (and guinea pig) into an abandoned well in the woods, leaving the horrified boy no choice but to climb down and rescue his pet. This unfortunate event on the first day of summer, fortunately, ends up bearing all sorts of unexpected fruit for Virgil and two of his girl classmates (the other two narrators): hearing-impaired biologist-to-be Valencia Somerset and Japanese American psychic Kaori Tanaka.

Trapped at the bottom of the well, Virgil discovers his inner bayani (hero) when he faces Pah, the monster bird who rules darkness in his beloved grandmother's grisly Filipino stories. Virgil emerges from his ordeal willing to face his other fears, which seem suddenly less significant in contrast to the dark well: "Being face-to-face with death made Chet seem so... ordinary. Boring, even."

Through Kelly's playful, inventive plotting, Virgil, Valencia, Kaori and Chet all confront "the universe" in their own way. In the process, Kelly gives this hope to young readers: we can each discover our inner hero and transform even our toughest struggles by opening ourselves up to the mysteries of chance and reaching out to friends and loved ones. --Kristianne Huntsberger, writer, storyteller and partnership marketing manager at Shelf Awareness

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