Book Review: “You’re Welcome, Universe” by Whitney Gardner

You’re Welcome, Universe Whitney Gardner (2017)

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fiction

Page Length: 297 pages (hardcover edition)

Synopsis:

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. (description from Goodreads)

Review:

You’re Welcome, Universe is story about an Indian teenage girl named Julia, who is deaf. She gets expelled from her old school for graffiti art/tagging the school and has to go to a new school where it’s very different. Where her old school was accommodating since was specially geared toward hearing impaired students only, she finds herself in a public school with an interpreter and people who are very different from her.

This book first caught my eye due to the cover art, it really captures the essence of Julia and the overall theme of the story. I liked the incorporation of ASL (American Sign Language) images as well as graffiti art illustrations within the text. The visuals helped to give context to the story without interrupting the flow of the plot. The novel is set at fast pace and the chapters run a bit short making it an easy read.

At first, Julia was not the most likable character to me. She’s angsty, gives people a hard time and is very standoffish. While I cannot entirely understand where she’s coming from (since I don’t share her experience), I found her nasty behavior inexcusable. Though Julia’s character eventually grew on me Julia did grate on my nerves at certain times. She kept putting up walls, but complained of feeling invisible. I also thought she needed a serious attitude adjustment.

Julia struggles with fitting in, being left out of conversations, and faces daily prejudice due to her hearing impairment and ethnicity which we experience through her POV. She is hurting a lot and art is a form of therapy for her. She can express whatever she is feeling with art that she can’t do with her physical voice. Making a friend with YP also helps to ease her loneliness. Both YP and Julia form a special bond with each other over the course of the story. Julia helps YP with her body issues and YP helps Julia to break down the barriers she’s kept up for so long. Seeing their friendship grow was endearing to read.

This my novel reading the POV of a deaf main character. Looking through Julia’s eyes gave me an insight on what life is like for a deaf person and what they experience on a daily basis. I enjoyed and appreciated how Gardner tackled deaf culture and graffiti art in this novel. It was new different, and unexpected. An added bonus for diversity and including themes of body issues, bullying, and peer pressure without feeling like it was too much packed into one novel.

Final Verdict:

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links!

8 thoughts on “Book Review: “You’re Welcome, Universe” by Whitney Gardner

  1. Of course there is a lot packed into ordinary life, so even if this had felt a little overloaded, it might still be realistic. It sounds like a very worthwhile read; I think the more books that we read when we are young, about how differently each person might experience the world, the more capable we are of empathy and compassion when we are older.

    1. It was a worthwhile read, I haven’t been able to find a lot of books that have characters that hearing impairments, etc. I learned a lot and gained a lot of insight from it. Like you said, the more you experience the world, the more capable we are of empathy and compassion when we are older.

      1. There is a really good novel by a Canadian writer, Frances Itani, called Deafening, which she wrote based on experiences with hearing impaired family members. It’s a quiet poetic family story, beautifully written and slowly entrancing. It was nominated for/won some Canadian literary awards and she has gone on to publish many more novels and stories since, but I suspect that earlier novel is more widely available. If you are keen on the subject, and in a contemplative reading mood, you might like this one too.

  2. Lovely review Rachel! This book definitely caught by eye with it’s beautiful cover and with the fact that it has a deaf MC. I am a little hesitant after reading your review though because I am not a huge fan of too much teenage angst…

    1. I still suggest you read it Amanda. I think a lot of Julia’s angst/frustration comes from the sudden changes in her life, betrayals, and other things (which I won’t say in order not spoil the book for you). Overall it’s a really important story.

  3. Oh that’s so interesting that you didn’t like Julia right away! I was pretty much all in with her character straight away, despite her initial hostility, and I loved seeing her let down some of her walls with YP. And I really loved that the book fundamentally is about two people developing a best-friendship, I thought that was lovely.

    1. Yeah, eventually she grew on me, but it was something about her initial hostility that made dislike her at first. Like you said. I also enjoyed that the book focused on two people developing a best-friendship.

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