Book Review: You’re Welcome, Universe – Whitney Gardner

Title: You’re Welcome, Universe (2017)
Author: Whitney Gardner
Publisher: Knopf Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 304 pages
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Goodreads Description

When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.

Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.

Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.

Review

You’re Welcome, Universe is the story of  Julia, a Deaf Indian girl who has been kicked out from her Deaf school and must now go to a “mainstream” school. If that’s not interesting enough, Julia has a passion for graffiti tagging and goes by the name ‘HERE’ both on her art and online in internet forums. It’s a cute, fun novel, and it’s even got hand-drawn illustrations done by the author herself. 🎨

First things first: I actually really enjoyed Julia’s voice. She’s abrasive, she’s loud and opinionated, she takes no shit, and it shows. She’s certainly a flawed heroine, sometimes even unlikeable, but I appreciate getting into her head and experiencing the world as she experiences it. This book, I think, is particularly insightful in showing us the realities of being Deaf in a hearing world. For example, the below happens in a cafe when Julia types out her order on her phone and shows it to the cashier:

“Cat got your tongue?” he asks. It always baffles me when people think I’m just typing things out to be different. Or lazy. My new favorite is when they say it’s my generation. Damn millennials, never off their stupid phones! No, you ableist jerkwad. This is how I’m going to communicate with you.

Gardner’s writing style is a little bit on the simple, straightforward side, but I think it works given Julia’s personality. The plot is relatively fast-moving, taking us through the day-to-day as Julia settles into her new school and deals with all the challenges that come with it, including making friends and finding a space for herself, all the while secretly working on her graffiti.

For me, You’re Welcome, Universe started out really strong but lost its footing somewhere in the middle. I cared about the characters and the plot pretty much immediately, but I stopped caring, and once I did, I never really quite got it back. I suspect it’s because I found Julia really immature and irresponsible sometimes and could immediately see the consequences to the decisions that she made. I still like her, but she frustrated me at numerous points in the story. 😂

I also feel, unfortunately, that while Julia is very well-developed and complex, the rest of the cast could do with more screen time. I wish I had seen much more of Julia’s lesbian parents, Mee and Ma, as well as Julia’s interpreter, Casey. ‘Yoga Pants’, Julia’s new friend, does play an important role especially nearing the end, but some of the conflict between her and Julia felt slightly forced, unnatural, and not fully explored.

Overall, I enjoyed You’re Welcome, Universe — just not as much as I wanted or expected to. While I think Gardner really nailed the portrayal of a Deaf, graffiti-loving protagonist, it just missed quite a few things for me to make it the perfect contemporary YA book. 🙏

I’m a fingerprint, an anomaly, a snowflake. Indian, Deaf, girl, two moms. You couldn’t make this shit fit in the pages of those glossy mags. I think about the curtains, the paint, the smell of Room 105. I think about the Zen being that is Katz, and his hypnotic red plaid. And I remember “Julia”.

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36 thoughts on “Book Review: You’re Welcome, Universe – Whitney Gardner

  1. Too bad this sounds like only an okay read, because there’s a lot of potential and I love the fact it emphasizes the realities of deafness in the society. Great review!

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  2. Lovely review, Reg! I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed this book despite its flaws. I’m a bit sad you didn’t feel committed to the characters until the very end of the story, though. I can’t wait to read that one, I’m happy there is a book like that with a deaf main character 🙂

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  3. I’ve had You’re Welcome Universe on my to-read list for a while now. I haven’t seen any books with deaf characters so I was interested to see how it would be written in this one, plus the blurb sounded interesting and the cover was gorgeous as well.
    Julia sounds like an interesting character but I can definitely see why you got irritated with her at times. I don’t mind it when characters make mistakes because it moves the story forwards but when you can see the outcome of their actions so far ahead it does kind of grate on my nerves a little, and oh it’s a shame the secondary characters weren’t as well developed either. Sounds like some missed potential there, especially with Julia’s parents.
    Still great review for this book Reg. It’s just a shame it wasn’t quite what you hoped it would be. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Beth! It’s a shame, but still, it wasn’t a bad book at all overall, and I’m sure plenty of people would enjoy it. I suppose with the characters I was just expecting a little extra something because as we’ve spoken about before, in contemporaries that’s probably THE winning ingredient. 😛

      In any case, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this book! I hope you like it if/when you get to it.

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      • That’s all right, and yeah it sounds like a good book. I guess maybe as far as contemporaries go there needs to be something extra in terms of the characters to make it stand out. They’re definitely the most important ingredient! 😀
        Thanks, I hope so too. 🙂

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  4. Great review! You’re Welcome, Universe has been on my TBR for a while, mainly because of the diverse cast and deaf protagonist. I’m happy that Julia has a strong voice since that’s what I look for first in a book. Too bad you couldn’t connect to the other characters and the book went a bit downhill around the middle, but I’m glad to see you still enjoyed it despite its faults.

    -Lauren

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  5. Sorry this one came up a little short for you Reg. I know this book has been very well received by YA readers. While I am interesting in a deaf character and her struggles in a hearing world, I often find that I almost always agree with your YA reviews. I may still give this one a go at some point, but it isn’t high on my list right now.

    Wonderful review as always!

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    • Thanks, Amanda! Yeah, I feel like tons of people loved it, and for good reason too – it definitely brings something new to the table; I guess it just wasn’t THE book for me? In any case, I hope you like it if/when you get to it. ❤

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  6. Sorry this one ended up falling short of your expectations, Reg! Though I am glad you still enjoyed it overall. That sucks that it ended up falling towards the middle and that some of the characters weren’t showcased as much as they could have been. Julia sounds like a fantastic protagonist but definitely one I could see myself getting frustrated with as well. And I’ve actually heard so many amazing things about the drawings in this. I searched for a copy at my B&N a few weeks back just so I could get a peek at them but that was literally the only new release book they didn’t have. Anyway! I definitely on reading this one at some point this year. Great review as always!! 😊♥

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    • Thanks, Melissa! Yeah, I definitely was expecting more from the characters but it still wasn’t a bad book at all, all things considered. The drawings are super cute too so if you’re into that kind of thing, it’s definitely a plus point. ❤

      And oh no! I hope you've found a bookstore that stocks this book by now. It's been a while since the release date, after all. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Lovely review as per usual Reg! I am so excited to read this book, especially after hearing such amazing things from other bloggers too! I also love the cover and the diversity so I cannot wait to pick this one up soon! Thanks for the review Reg!

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