Erin Entrada Kelly
Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2017 311 pages
Four voices tell the tale of Virgil, a shy boy who has trouble being heard. His best friends are his Filipino grandmother, who tells him wonderful and empowering stories from her homeland, and his guinea pig named Gulliver. Virgil is overshadowed by his loud family who talks only in exclamation points and wishes he had the confidence to make a friend and stand up to the school bully, Chet. Meanwhile, he consults with family friend Kaori, who is an amateur psychic and is determined to lead Virgil in the right direction. Classmate, Valencia, hears only through the use of hearing aids, yet is strong and fierce. Virgil wishes he could be more like her or at least be her friend. On the first day of summer vacation Virgil encounters Chet in the woods. After an unpleasant interlude, Chet throws Virgil's backpack down an abandoned well with Gulliver inside. Virgil must face his fears and go down the well to save his friend, only he gets stuck down at the bottom of the well. Meanwhile, Valencia is consulting with Kaori and the two strike up an unlikely friendship, bonding over the missing VIrgil. The girls, along with Kaori's little sister, find Chet in the woods and eventually locate the lost boy and guinea pig. Virgil emerges from the well a different person. Will he finally stand up to the bully and find his place within his family?
Sure to appeal to fans of Wonder, Kelly offers a different heartfelt problem novel with a multiracial cast of characters. Readers will identify with Virgil and root for him as he struggles with an overwhelming world and loud and pushy people. He exhibits much growth as a character as he finds the inner courage to save his beloved pet, stand up to the school bully, and reach out to a new friend. Chet is the character that everyone loves to hate. He is intolerant of anyone who is different, from a shy and quiet boy to a girl who is hearing impaired. We see where his intolerance stems from, his overconfident dad, and feel pity for the bully as he can never please this arrogant man. The chapter headings label who is narrating a particular chapter, which is helpful for readers, and include a sweet little pencil drawing, further identifying the character in question. The book runs a little long, but reads quickly with short chapters. The danger of Virgil being stuck in the well adds tension to the plot and will encourage readers to feel further empathy for this character and hope that the girls find him. A novel of growing up, friendship, finding your place in the world, and trusting in the secrets of the universe, Kelly packs a wallop in this emotional book that will surely tug at the heartstrings of its readers.