The de Grummond Book Group came up with another excellent book selection in Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. Two hints may could have influenced that selection – it won a Newbery medal and the author will be a presenter at the Kaigler Book Festival in April.
The first couple of sentences set the mood, give the setting, and introduce one of the main characters. “Eleven-year-old Virgil Salinas already regretted the rest of middle school, and he’d only just finished sixth grade. He imagined all those years stretching ahead of him like a long line of hurdles, each of them getting taller, thicker, and heavier, and him standing in front of them on his weak and skinny legs.”
Characters are a strong point in this middle grade novel with several main characters almost equal in importance. Valencia introduces herself as one who questions what God must be like and admits that she talks mostly to Saint Rene. She read about him in a gift book about famous deaf people, given by a friend who thought she would relate. Kaori Tanaka claims her parents were born in the high, misty, mountains of a samurai village, although they were born in Ohio, to give credence to her powers of second sight as she tells fortunes. Then there’s the bully, Chet Bullens who causes trouble for them all while hiding the fact that he doesn’t measure up to his father’s expectations.
In an interesting turn, the story is told in third person except for the chapters that focus on Valencia. The plot takes unrelated people, not in the same school, and brings them together in a fascinating story that centers on Chet’s prank on Virgil and his pet pig. The twists and turns that bring them together and the old tales told by Virgil’s wise grandmother wind up having meaning to the changes in the story and make for an enjoyable read even if you don’t happen to still be in middle grade.