I love books that just completely surprise me, and Hello Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly surprised me. I shouldn’t have been at all shocked that this book didn’t follow what I expected. I mean, come on, Erin Entrada Kelly is just a brilliant author! If you haven’t read any of her books before, I would absolutely recommend that you first read Hello Universe, but then I would tell you to go straight to reading Kelly’s book titled Land of the Forgotten Girls. It is also fantastic!
Anyways, let me explain my thinking a bit further. I have read enough books in my life that it’s kind of transformed me into a self-proclaimed “mini book expert”, well at least a “children’s book expert.” Because I have read so many children’s literature books, I have gotten strong at predicting the plots. If you research the progress of children’s literature as it increases in text complexity, you will understand that books follow predictable plot structures. They have a set amount of characters, character changes, plot events, and setting details.
Everything in children’s literature can be studied down to the science of the words on the page, and let me tell you… it has been studied down to the words on the page and how long a child’s brain processes the word. (I’ve read about it, and it is as painfully boring as it sounds. Add in the average time an eye focuses on a word before the brain processes the meaning and you’re in for a real snooze-fest.) Kelly followed the predictable structure and changes of a young adult novel; however, it was done in a different and fresh manner. So much so that I picked up and read this entire book in one sitting.
Hello Universe focuses on several kids that are just looking to find their own pathways. They all have their own struggles, yet they haven’t yet been thrown together. That all changes when the main character, Virgil, and his pet guinea pig, Gulliver, are literally thrown into a pit located in the middle of the woods between all these kids’ houses, and this unlikely collection of characters’ now have their lives entangled together. The local bully, Chet “The Bull” Bullens is responsible for such a menacing prank. I guess when your nickname is “The Bull,” you, of course, are the bully in the story. Remember, I told you that children’s literature follows predictable patterns. It has to! We have young readers we have to connect with!
The events that follow during Virgil’s time in the pit allow for all the characters to have moments of major change. Changes that all children today are continually being faced with. Kelly’s book questions the kids. She is challenging them to ask themselves: Are you going to be the bystander that just watches innocent kids be picked on in this world? Are you the bully doing the picking in order to prevent the world from seeing your own weakness? Or maybe, just maybe, are you the hero in the story? Are you the one that is going to defy everything and stand up for what is right?