Hello Universe


Reading Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly via Kindle Oasis.

There is power in names. I certainly was a repeater of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” growing up especially. And in this Stars for Buttons’ July Read, Hello, Universe, author Erin Entrada Kelly spells out just how powerful (hurtful and/or inspiring) names can truly be.

Hello, Universe is a beautifully written, fast paced, middle grade read. It will delight all ages with its vibrant characters and heartwarming tale of courage. The story is told by four different narrators. The four voices that lead us through this little tale of isolation, found family, and budding friendships weave together in unexpected ways. These four children (two boys, two girls) aren’t really friends at all, but their stories entangle as one boy pranks the other boy into trapping him at the bottom of a well. This disaster sends the two girls (and a sweet tag along sister) on an epic quest that will require each of their unique talents to find him.

Wearing a summer skirt while reading Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly via Kindle Oasis, title page.

Virgil Salinas, the main character of this team of four, is on his own quest--a quest to bravehood. Young Virgil’s outgoing, athletic family often misunderstands his shyness and introverted behaviors, with the only exception-his sassy, kind, storytelling grandma. His parents and brothers gave Virgil a pet name, Turtle. Virgil notes to himself that he does not like the nickname at all. It makes him feel small and cowardly, yet to come out of his shell. And Erin Entrada Kelly uses symbolism in names to show the reader when Virgil is feeling small and cowardly.

And later when Virgil completes a brave and kind act, an unexpected voice in an unexpected place gives him a name--a name that means hero. Erin Entrada Kelly again reminds us just how powerful names can be. Virgil unravels the reason he’s referred to as hero whilst he’s never been more afraid in his life. Virgil teaches readers that often fear and anxiety are shared actions with courage and bravery. We find courage in the unexpected.

Reading chapter one, Grand Failure of Hello, Universe while standing on our bed covers.

In college, I worked as a summer camp staffer down in South Texas. It was fabulous. I met some of my best friends whilst working there. I was chatting recently with one of those best friends, and we giggled and awed about the nicknames we were all given--and how some of those names STUCK--for better or for worse. Like for worse-worse: I mean there’s a guy that goes by Frank now, and, yeah, his name isn’t even close to Frank.

My camp nickname (I had several: Feather Red and Babordan) is actually something I’ve held onto for a long time, though no one really calls me that anymore. But Babordan has been a behind the scenes business name for a while now. And I love that it has roots at my old summer camp.

Names are powerful. They hold a special meaning unique to each of us. Names have the power to transform an encouraged heart to a broken one with cruel meanness and even unintentionally, like Virgil’s mother. Once Virgil had voiced his dislike for the name Turtle, she stopped using it. And there is power in the name we give ourselves.

It’s an endearing novel. Stars for Buttons has read other bully stories--we are noticing this is a common theme in middle grade books. We’ve even read other bully stories that include falling down wells (ahem, Wolf Hollow). Hello, Universe is gently written and not nearly as traumatic as Wolf Hollow, and a book I’d trust a middle grade student to read on their own without developing fears of falling down wells.

Stars for Buttons rated the novel with ★★★★☆. We really enjoyed the grandmother’s folktale side stories. And we loved Gulliver, Virgil’s most loyal friend and pet guinea pig.

We hope you check it out! And if you’re on the hunt for something similar, here’s a book filled with vibrant characters on a similar voyage to bravehood. Also, if you’re interested in our book club, you can find all the FAQ and sign up page here. We’d love to have ya!

Wishing you fun nicknames + a great summer,