MTYT: Hello, Universe

This week Mary Fahrenbruck and Tracy Smiles share their take on Hello, Universe winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal. Written by Erin Entrada Kelly, this story twists and turns around the lives of four middle schoolers who have just begun their summer break.

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

MARY: I wonder if I were a 5th grader, would I have enjoyed this story more than I did as an adult? Even though the characters are well-developed, the plot is believable and the theme is relatable, I don’t find the story compelling. I feel like I’m missing something!

When I feel this way about a book, especially an award-winning book, I want to talk to young readers. I want to hear their opinions about a book for whom they are the target audience. What did you think about this story, Tracy?

TRACY: Okay, I finished this novel as I returned it to the library along with some other books. As I closed it and put it in the return bin, I wondered, “What award did this win?” Sitting down to my computer I see it won the John Newbery Medal! Frankly, I’m shocked.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot about this book I truly like. The characters are endearing, and as a mother of boy with special needs who needs and uses the resource room at his school, I appreciate the novel highlights two of the children meeting in the resource room. As “fate” would have it, they create friendships through a sort of six-degrees-of-separation way. I like the variety of ethnicities the characters encompass, though for the most part they are, to me, average American middle-class kids.

Of course, I dislike “The Bull,” though I could sympathize with him–just a little bit. I am disappointed in his transformation, or lack of, although I am pleased with Virgil’s transformation in the wake of an accident that left him with what appears to be a blooming confidence. Kaori and her sister Gen are delightful, and the friendship they develop with Valencia is probably what I celebrate most. Hands down, my favorite character is Lola–especially her dark Filipino tall tales.

That said, I can’t say Hello, Universe is what I consider the kind of book to earn such a high award. It just doesn’t have the provocative edge I expect with a Newbery award winner. In fact, as the girls figure out what happened to Virgil, I got bored–often thinking “Come on already!” Like you, Mary, I wonder, “Do kids like this book?” Mind you, the writing is solid and accessible to the audience the book is intended for, and I can see potential with discussions of issues critical to children such as friendships with people different from ourselves, but a page turner it is not. In short, I would give a grade of “B.” I am not the intended audience for this book, so I am also going to look for examples of how young readers respond to this, dare I say it, sweet, but pedestrian story.

Title: Hello, Universe
Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
ISBN: 9780062414151
Publish Date: March 14, 2017

This is the fourth installment of April 2018’s My Take/Your Take. The first week Mary and Tracy discuss All Around Us. In the second week, they gave their take on Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut. In week three, they looked at Long Way Down. To follow the whole conversation, check back each Wednesday.

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