“Hello, Universe” by Erin Entrada Kelly: A Discussion Guide For Writers

Hello Universe.png

Discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey

In Erin Entrada Kelly’s middle grade novel Hello, Universe, three characters come together and find friendship and confidence. By studying Kelly’s novel, writers can examine the use of multiple points of view, the placement of adults in a story, the smart and sensitive hand required when writing about characters with disabilities, and the courage required to let a story start and end quietly.

Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate Hello, Universe. As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Kelly’s methods.

These discussion questions were inspired by the Kidlit Book Club meeting at The Writers’ Loft. We’d love to have you join us. Check out the Loft calendar to find out about our next meeting!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Hello, Universe is told using multiple points of view, one in first person and the others in third person. Consider how these points of view helped tell Kelly’s story. How does using multiple points of view allow Kelly to present a spirit guide or inner voice for each character? Could this have been accomplished with another method? Why did Kelly choose to tell Valencia’s story in first person, and how does this affect the relationship between Valencia and the reader? Consider how many narrators you use in your manuscript and whether you are using the right point of view.
  2. Gen’s jump rope plays a pivotal part in the story. How does Kelly make the jump rope an ever-present item as opposed to a convenient coincidence? Do your characters employ props that are integral to who they are? How do you make sure itemanuscript are not awkwardly introduced to serve your plot?
  3. Managing the adults in kidlit is always challenging. How does Kelly use the wisdom of Lola and her stories as a guide and touchpoint for Virgil without making her intrusive or preaching? Consider how adults share and give advice in your manuscript. Is the child still in charge?
  4. Many of the parents in Kelly’s book are unlikable. Is this effective? How does this hurt or help her story? How do you portray the adults in your manuscript? Are you looking at the adults from your MG or YA main character’s perspective?
  5. How does the cover art of Hello, Universe inform the reader, and how could it have possibly added to the tension of the book before the first page is read? Is this a positive or a negative? Consider how cover art can do more than entice a reader to open a book but can set the tone or mood before the reading begins. Can a high-tension cover allow for a quieter start to a manuscript? Have you imagined the cover art for your manuscript, and would the cover art potentially change your opening lines?
  6. Chet is the antagonist in Hello, Universe. Is he stereotypical? Is he vulnerable? Repentant? Redeemed? Consider how Kelly manages her antagonist to aid her story. Is she effective? How does your antagonist function in your manuscript?
  7. Consider the ending of Hello, Universe. Is it subtle and quiet, or loud and transformative? How can a quieter ending be satisfying? Is it? Does your manuscript have a quiet ending or a loud ending?
  8. Kidlit that features children with disabilities helps provide a platform for understanding, empathy, and recognition, but the writer must manage it with great skill and sensitivity. How does Kelly effectively portray Valencia’s hearing impairment? How does she manage Virgil’s need for an IEP? Do you have disabled characters in your manuscript? Consider what research you have done to make sure your characterization is accurate, sensitive and significant.
  9. What are the stakes for Virgil in Hello, Universe? Kelly creates both active goals (talking to Valencia, saving Gulliver, escaping the well) and subconscious goals (gaining confidence, changing the way his family treats him). How does this add to the story, give it readability, and add emotional resonance? Does your main character have both active and subconscious goals?

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