by Erin Entrada Kelly
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
This year’s Newbery winner is solid but also didn’t knock my socks off. It’s the story of painfully shy Filipino-American Virgil Salinas; his friend and visionary Kaori Tanaka; his crush, Valencia Somerset, who is hearing impaired; and local bully Chet Bullens. Chet throws Virgil’s backpack, containing his beloved guinea pig Gulliver, into an old well. When Virgil goes to rescue it, he gets trapped in the well. Meanwhile, Valencia shows up for her appointment with Kaori, but Kaori is preoccupied with Virgil’s missing his appointment hours ago. [Spoiler] The two, plus Kaori’s little sister Gen, set out to find him and eventually rescue him from the well. At the end, Virgil is finally able to stand up to Chet, tell his mother to stop calling him Turtle, and finally talk to Valencia.
It’s a sweet story, and definitely ticks the boxes for diversity, especially in #ownvoices. I can see why they chose it, and it will be a book I recommend to kids. I’m really curious to hear what my 4th and 5th grade book club kiddos think of it (next year – it’s still too new to choose for this year). I really appreciated the description of hearing aids on a hearing impaired person, and what reading lips is really like. I was upset to learn that Valencia’s parents didn’t think she “needed” to learn American Sign Language; first of all, she had trouble reading lips and also just wanted to, and I felt for her and the injustice of it. I also really enjoyed Virgil’s grandmother, Lola, and all of her stories of Filipino folklore. There is a presence named Ruby who comforts Virgil in the well and I missed where she came from (whether folklore or not) but I enjoyed her too, and her role in Virgil’s rescue.