Review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner


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Friends are a liability.
Julia learns this the hard way when she covers up a slur about her best friend with a beautiful (albeit illegal) mural, sprayed right across the gymnasium of the Kingston School for the Deaf.

Her (supposed) best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her mom’s 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.

Out in the ‘burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. A tag on a sign, a piece on an overpass. But soon Julia leans that she’s not 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 graffiti war.

Now Julia must risk arrest and expulsion to go toe to toe with her rival…or face losing the only piece of her identity that still makes sense.

Rating: 4 Stars

This was one of the most educational books I’ve ever read about a character who was Deaf. Whitney Gardner introduces us to Julia, an Indian-American girl who was born Deaf, and through her demonstrates a great many things that stem both from her Deafness and from her racial identity.

Julia is a teenager that loves street art and is quite the accomplished artist. After using her skills to cover up a slur against her friend at their school for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, she’s caught (because of said best friend) and forced to matriculate at a regular high school. That presents a whole range of complications, from getting along with her interpreter (hired by her moms and someone she’s antagonistic towards) to dealing with the students and teachers who don’t know how to interact with a Deaf student.

A lot of times in film or in literature, a Deaf character is portrayed as being able to lip read perfectly and communicate eloquently without any difficult between them and a hearing person. Gardner’s treatment of this situation in the novel shines a light on the reality that this isn’t always so and for good reason: People have accents, thus their lip movements aren’t the same as everyone else’s; also, American Sign Language isn’t a translation of English or any other language. It is its own language, which presents some problems when Julia tries to communicate with those around her.

The characters in the book were alright, though most of the interest I had was concentrated on Julia and YP, the new friend she makes at the school she’s sent to after her expulsion. There were many other characters introduced throughout the book that served purposes, but were ultimately forgettable as I found them to be, at best, really good set dressing: Mr. Katz (Julia’s art teacher), Casey (Julia’s interpreter), Dominic (Julia’s co-worker and the temporary love interest of the friend that got her expelled), etc. Some were there as red herrings for the identity of the rival vandal in town and each was plausible up until the reveal that they weren’t, at which point they faded and became much less important or visible in the narrative.

The art in the book was amazing. Since this was an e-galley, I wasn’t sure whether or not there would be any included, but fortunately there was! The combination of Julia’s solo pieces and then the pieces that blended her style with that of the vandal were beautiful. I peeked into a finished copy of the book and the only regret I have about the publication is that the pictures are not in color. I think that really would have added a pop.

Not having known anything about graffiti art prior to reading this book, I liked not only the art as mentioned above, but the inclusion of Julia’s mentions of actual well-known graffiti artists such as Banksy. These names weren’t familiar to me when I read them, but I got curious and saw some amazing work from around the world. Thank you, Whitney Gardner, for this introduction!

You’re Welcome, Universe is a quick read that is a gorgeous experience that has its rough moments with a main character who doesn’t take shit from anyone, won’t accept pity, and finds the art in herself to share on the city streets in a unique style that’s so in-your-face you’ll remember it for a long time to come.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

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