Sometimes I really wonder what is going through the minds of those who pick the Newbery Medal books. There are those Newbery Medals that are really wow! books, and there are those that are more eh, shrug, move on. Then there are the books that I’ve really questioned, like Secret of the Andesbeating Charlotte’s Web, or Daniel Boonewinning the Medal over By the Shores of Silver Lake.
Universe is a book that I question.
For one thing, the plot of this book is glacially
slow. There are 311 pages, and 231 of those pages cover the same day. The entire plot of the book is based around a couple
of hours in the lives of four kids, and there’s simply not enough excitement to
make the pace feel fast at all. In addition, the plot itself is simplistic and
bare-bones. The characters stand around and talk most of the time. And Chet,
the bully, is stereotypical and overexaggerated. At least Kelly gave some
insight into his behavior by giving him chapters that explored his home
For another, Kelly utilizes the most irritating trend of contemporary literature: the third person/first person point of view switch. I have never understood this. It’s more annoying than first person present tense. Of the four kids, three of them get 3rd person treatment. Valencia gets 1st person. Why? What is the point? Also, why are her chapters only ever titled “Valencia”? Everyone else gets titled chapters as per the content. Valencia’s chapters are only ever given her name. Why? What is the point?
This book does, though, offer fascinating insight into the minds of readers today. They seem to value diversity over everything else, even story, and they expect their diverse characters to act appropriately diversely by following quite rigid patterns and speaking and acting only in ways that are deemed appropriate. This book celebrates diversity, with Virgil (Filipino), Kaori (Japanese), and Valencia (deaf), and then showcases that diversity everywhere. “Look at this book! It’s diverse!” is shouted from every page. This is a good thing, and Kelly avoids old stereotypes in all of her portrayals, though her attempts at bullying were a little excessive, in my opinion.
Yet, in my opinion, Kelly sacrifices a good story at the altar of diversity. What good is highlighting diversity if you can’t also create a compelling, interesting story? It is possible to create fantastic stories with diverse characters, so why are people seemingly settling for less? All Hello, Universe shows is that Kelly capitalized on the diversity trend without bothering with what makes a book actually memorable and long-lasting, which is the story. In my opinion, it cheapens diversity to a selling point.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Warnings: Psychics, astrology, way too many uses of the word “retard.”