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