There’s shy and then there’s Virgil Salinas. He’s so quiet, he usually only talks to his family and then mostly only to his grandmother Lola. So, how will he ever get up the nerve to talk Valencia Somerset, a girl in his resource class at middle school? His only hope is Kaori Tanaka, a girl in his neighborhood with a gift for the spiritual world. At least that’s what Kaori claims.

On his way to his appointment with Kaori, Virgil sees Chet, “the Bull” Bullens, the biggest bully in the neighborhood. As usual, Chet calls Virgil “retard.” As usual, Virgil runs away without saying a thing. Tormenting Virgil is one of Chet’s favorite activities. Running away is one of Virgil’s.

Valencia needs help too. She doesn’t need help with her deafness, she can handle that fine if people would follow the “how-tos.” She needs help with her recurring nightmares where she’s the last human on earth. She has to get some sleep soon. When she sees Kaori’s business card posted at the grocery store, she wonders if spiritual guidance from a professional would work.

The paths of Virgil, Kaori, Valencia and Chet converge in the woods in a remarkable afternoon that includes Virgil being stuck in an abandoned  well and Chet being snake bit. What happens to bring them all together couldn’t just be a coincidence. It must be the universe conspiring. At least, that’s what Kaori claims.

This delightful story of  courage, friendship, and acceptance will have you looking at the world a little differently. And hopefully, you’ll start listening to the people in your life with your eyes and heart and not just your ears.

HELLO, UNIVERSE was the 2018 winner of the Newbery Award.