Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
The short chapters help keep the pacing moving along and the structure is brilliant. Valencia Somerset is deaf and her voice is portrayed in first-person, while all the other characters are in third-person. This limited point-of-view not only gives a personal touch that allows the readers to identify closely with Valencia but mimics the isolation a deaf person might feel. Many times, Valencia doesn't understand the person that is speaking because they are not facing her or are looking down. She comments on how often this happens in addition to trying to play games like hide-and-seek with friends but can't hear when they call out, "Ready, set, go!" Her friends appear to like her until the day they tell her she's wrecking the game and rather than figuring out one she can play, they shun her. She ends up having a continual nightmare as a result, where she is isolated in a field staring at an eclipse with a girl in a blue dress with no whites of her eyes showing - her eyes a black iris like the eclipse. This nightmare can symbolize darkness obscuring light or when prejudices blot out the goodness or light in people who are ruled by fear of people that are different from a disability or anyone oppressed or marginalized. This point of view lets the reader step into Valencia's character more closely and understand some of the challenges as well as advantages with her disability whether lip-reading or observing nature without sound.
The two children that have disabilities, Virgil and Valencia, are in the same resource room at school and love the book, Gulliver's Travels by Jonathon Swift. They even name their guinea pigs Lilliput and Gulliver. The Lilliputians are afraid of Gulliver's size and welcome him at first before turning against him out of fear. Valencia is accepted by her friend, Roberta, but influenced by those around her later turning against her deafness in fear and ignorance paralleling the Lilliputians. Gulliver's Travels is a satire on politics and the author cleverly parallels the politics of middle school and belonging through subtle references. Gulliver is also an average person who is gifted with learning different languages. This is ironic considering Vigil cannot squeak out even a "hello" to Valencia because he is so shy. And the choice of the name Virgil is symbolic too. Virgil was Dante's guide through hell in Dante's Inferno. Virgil goes through hell; that is falling into a well where he has to find his voice to talk to Valencia and learn to stand up for himself against a bully.
While some might find this slow-paced, I thought the short chapters helped move it along and the gorgeous writing and humor kept me engaged. When I went back to think about sections I started to see quite a bit of symbolism that I mention briefly. There's a lot going on in this book. It isn't going to be for everyone but it is a gem.