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The Universe is a vastly strange place.  It can bring a group of people from completely different worlds together, and create a string of coincidences so distinct yet so intricate almost no one can comprehend how exactly it happened.

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is an intriguing, cleverly plotted and heartwarming novel about friendships, personalities, embracing your inner quirkiness and learning to be yourself, all mixed together with a touch of coincidence and that thing we all experience called life.

The story is about 4 middle-graders: Virgil, a shy,thoughtful Filipino-American boy filled with folktales told by his Lola and his pet guinea pig Gulliver, Valencia, a determined yet easily underestimated young girl because of her hearing disability, and witty Kaori Tanaka and her little sister Gen, two astrology-obsessed fortune tellers who run a business. As far as  they were concerned, they were just normal kids that happened to live in the same neighborhood. Until, Chet Bullens, a notorious bully, traps Virgil and Gulliver in the woods and makes them land up into a well. From there, it is up to Valencia, Kaori and Gen to band together and search for Virgil, and save him before it is too late. Meanwhile, Virgil takes time to reflect on everything, and starts to discover his inner bayani (hero). Will they get to Virgil before it's too late? And how coincidental really is our universe?

I like the fact that the novel has been converted into shorter chapters, or vignettes, each one with different perspectives of the characters. It helps the reader understand where each protagonist is coming from. It also highlights where each character is at the same time, which you don’t normally get to experience in most books.

I find this book extremely relatable, filled with situations all of us have experienced at least once, like getting embarrassed in front of people from school, falling out with a friend because their interests have changed or trying to show yourself better than you actually are. People don’t always know what the other characters are feeling at the same moment, and the writer has portrayed that aspect of the story beautifully.

Something I especially enjoyed looking at was character development, and how the main conflict changed their personalities, and the aftermath of the whole story panned out really well.

I enjoyed reading about Virgil’s perspective the most, mainly because of the inclusion of various Filipino cultures and myths, like Pah, a gigantic bird from lore who was said to eat people. Valencia also proved to be an interesting character, with her interests and eye for detail about the natural environment.

With its well-paced plot, intricate character description, extremely vivid imagery and a serene writing style that still keeps you hooked, Hello, Universe is definitely a book I would recommend, especially because everyone can find themselves in the pages of this captivating story.

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. Greenwillow Books, 2020. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!

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