You’re Welcome Universe is the story of sixteen-year-old Julia who has just been kicked out of her school for the deaf for graffiti after being betrayed by someone she thought was a friend.
There are a lot of “angles” in this book. Julia is a WOC, Deaf, being raised by two moms, and into graffiti. In the first couple of pages, I was a little worried that this would be too much and that it just would have space or the author wouldn’t have the ability to make it satisfying. First of all: Shut up, past Tara. People are complicated. Real people are all of these things and much more. We should expect book characters to reflect that complexity.
In many ways, Julia is unlikable. She is quite self-centered. Many of the characters around her are dealing with their own difficulties, but she has a hard time seeing that. She is abrasive and quick to take offense. Despite all of that, I found myself both being interested in her and caring for her. She was sharp and straightforward, and it was easy to understand her actions even when they weren’t kind. I was quite taken with the other characters. They were all distinct and felt realistic. I liked that most of the adult characters were fleshed out more than is usual for YA. Mr. Katz and YP’s father especially were far more the cardboard cutouts than they could have been. Excellent work.
I can’t speak to the authenticity of the representations in this book. I don’t think that the author is #ownvoices in any of them. She does mention sensitivity readers in the acknowledgments, and as an outsider, the descriptions felt realistic and respectful. I do wish her mothers had more of a presence. The few scenes with the three of them did an excellent job of showing the love between them.
I liked the art included in the book. It is easy to tell that the author knows art and how art develops. The subplot of two people’s art coming together and elevating one another was absorbing to me as an individual who has less than no artistic talent. I also was interested in the details of graffiti art such as the preparation and even such things like the fact that different caps are used for the spray paint. Which makes sense when you think about it, but it had never occurred to me.
I liked that Julia’s main journey was friendship based. She struggles to figure out how to give and take with friendship. Her expectations weren’t always appropriate, and she isn’t a forgiving person when lines are crossed. Friendship, to Julia, is a risky endeavor. Throughout the book, she tried to convince herself that being completely alone is what she wants. Julia’s realization that finding the right people to trust elevates her life much like her art elevates a plain wall was touching.
You’re Welcome Universe is well written, interesting, and entertaining. I flew through it and will be looking at more of Whitney Gardner’s when it comes out.
A vibrant, edgy, fresh new YA voice for fans of More Happy Than Not and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, packed with interior graffiti.
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.
Told with wit and grit by debut author Whitney Gardner, who also provides gorgeous interior illustrations of Julia’s graffiti tags, You’re Welcome, Universe introduces audiences to a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way.