If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have noticed I haven’t been posting as many reviews lately. I felt it was overwhelming the blog and I wanted to take things in a different direction. Starting now, I’m going to post one review a week, on Fridays, in the hopes of highlighting diverse reads everyone should check out, as well as any problematic books I might encounter along the way. Happy Friday everyone!
Title: YOU’RE WELCOME, UNIVERSE
Author: Whitney Gardner (@HeyWhitney)
Release Date: March 7, 2017
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
You’re Welcome, Universe is unlike any book I’ve ever encountered before.
16-year-old Julia is an Indian-American Deaf graffiti artist, who’s just been kicked out of the Kingston School for the Deaf when her so-called best friend Jordyn turns her in—for trying to cover up a slur about Jordyn. Now, Julia’s transferring to a mainstream school in the suburbs, where she makes a new tag and plans new pieces, determined to avoid attaching to anyone around her. Problem is, people keep trying to get her to open up, from her “terp” Casey, who’s required to go to her classes with her, to her art teacher Mr. Katz, to the girl who becomes her only friend, Yoga Pants, or YP. Despite her angry moms (yes, moms!) who insist that she stop illegal painting, Julia refuses to give up the one thing that makes her feel alive, in control, powerful, HERE—even when someone else in the neighborhood starts adding to her pieces, instigating a graff war.
There’s so much to love about this book. The organic diversity is just the tip of the iceberg as Gardner shows us what it’s like to be capital-d Deaf. I feel like I learned so much from reading this book; any time a topic of Deaf culture comes up in the storyline, it’s effortlessly woven in and explained for the “hearies” like myself. We get to see Julia’s daily struggles to communicate in a world that doesn’t understand her, from classes where people speak to her interpreter instead of her; to her ex-friend at work whose Cochlear Implant allows her to effortlessly date Julia’s hearie crush, Donavan; to Julia’s budding friendship with YP.
Communication is a big deal for Julia: most hearies don’t know how to sign, and the ones who choose to learn usually give up when they realize ASL is a fully-fledged language. I love the way the dialogue is constructed to show the gaps in Julia’s ability to lip read, and the way she and YP weave between signing and texting to get their points across. The dialogue shows just what it’s like for Julia on a daily basis. No wonder she’s so isolated—why bother trying when no one knows what your life is like or how to communicate with you, and the rest of them treat you like there’s something wrong with you.
Julia doesn’t have time for your bullsh*t, and that’s a big reason I love her. It’s too easy to write tragic disabled characters who just let life happen to them, but that’s the opposite of what Julia represents (and, I think, the opposite of what young adults of all abilities need to read). Granted, Julia is pissed off, but for good reason: her best friend sold her out and then starts dating her crush, she’s trying to hide her graff from her parents and the authorities, and she goes to school with a bunch of people who don’t understand her. But Julia is very clear that she wouldn’t want to be a hearie anyway. Being Deaf is a part of who she is, and she loves herself, even if the rest of the hearie world doesn’t.
I love that Julia is an artist, not only because I love reading about artists (and seeing artwork in novels like this), but also because I feel that it makes sense for her character. Graff is part of her, it’s the way she expresses how she sees the world—and it ties in with how she feels misunderstood by the world. I don’t know much about graffiti culture, but I learned a lot through reading this book. The characters raise some interesting questions: what’s the difference between vandalism and art? Should there be laws allowing graff in some places but not others? Having read the e-arc of this book, now I want to buy the paper edition; the artwork is a big part of who Julia is, and it’s beautiful.
This is another book I can’t criticize in the least, so I’ll leave you with a few caveats:
- As I said above, this is a book you want to read in the physical edition. The artwork is so important, and it’d be worthwhile to flip back and forth in the text to see it progress throughout the storyline.
- There’s little-to-no romance in this book (although this was something I loved). There’s a bigger focus on friendship—the good and the bad. Julia doesn’t see much point in dating or romance, so if that’s something you’re looking for, this won’t be the book for you.
- Language & Slang: Growing up in Queens, Julia is not really shy about cursing. Additionally, there’s a lot of graffiti culture slang (which I definitely had to look up, that’s how un-cool I am), as well as terms relating to Deaf culture. The choppiness of the dialogue also forces you to fill in the gaps along with Julia, so it’s definitely a mentally engaging book as well. So while this is a quick read in some senses, it’s definitely the kind of book you want to take your time reading.
- As previously stated, Julia is a very angsty narrator. She’s not the happy-go-lucky “every girl” character. She’s got a lot of anger and she doesn’t play by the rules. This is not something that bothered me, but I could see it being a problem for others.
Overall, I can’t give this book less than a 5-star-Knock-Your-Socks-Off rating. This is the kind of story everyone should read. Julia disproves Ableist ideologies. She’s not “disabled,” but rather just differently abled, and I love the message that sends, particularly to younger readers. It’s so important to read stories about people who are different from yourself, so I hope everyone will check out You’re Welcome, Universe.