Hello, Universe, the 2018 Newberry Award winner and New York Times bestseller by Filipina American writer Erin Entrada Kelly will be adapted into a Netflix film. The novel tells the story of four middle-schoolers—here’s a spoiler-free summary:
Virgil is an introverted and timid boy who regrets not talking to his classmate Valencia, an independent and deaf girl, during their last day of sixth grade. He asks Kaori, his friend and a self-proclaimed psychic, for help with his problem. While in the woods on his way to Kaori’s house, Virgil encounters Chet, the neighborhood bully, who taunts him and throws his backpack down an abandoned well. Despite being scared, Virgil decides to climb down into the well because his pet guinea pig is inside the bag, resulting to him getting trapped in the well. He calls for help but no one can hear him—even Kaori, her little sister Gen, and Valencia, who come looking for him when he missed their meeting. And so starts the epic search for Virgil!
What makes this book—and its upcoming film— so awesome is that its themes are relatable to readers of all ages, especially when it comes to values such as helping friends in times of distress, standing up to bullies, and realizing that you can always be a hero in someone’s story. It also delves into the value of grandparents in one’s life because Virgil, who is Filipino American just like the author, has a deep relationship with his lola. While alone in the well, Virgil remembers his lola’s stories and contemplates on how he can become a hero despite his circumstances. The novel also espouses teamwork when Valencia, Kaori, and Gen, search high and low for the missing Virgil.
And while it paints Chet as the bully, the author moves away from the two-dimensional presentation of his character. In this book, Chet has a backstory that explains why he picks on the kids he perceives are different and weak.
Lastly, the book presents diversity in a way that even young children will understand: a deaf girl, a socially awkward boy, a kid who believes she is a fortune-teller. Hello, Universe knocks on one’s empathy and ability to accept themselves and others—may it be with the help of fate or the experiences that shape them.