Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pub. Date: 2017
Genres: Contemporary Realistic Fiction, YA
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Julia is a deaf, Indian girl who has attended a school for the deaf until her friend snitched on her for covering up offensive graffiti in that snitch’s defense. She is also a street artist. Now she has to attend a school where the vast majority of the student body is hearing, and her moms banned her from spray painting. While dealing with a school full of people who don’t try to understand her, she has to tag signs and walls in secret and see her ex-best friend regularly at work. You’re Welcome Universe, by Whitney Gardner, is a novel about friendship, art, and collaboration.
I was in the mood to finally read this novel. I had some interest in the the main character being deaf and interest in the street art, which reminded me of Street Art Throwdown. Julia is a character very focused on trust from the beginning of the novel. She experiences betrayal and expects that her interpreter is a spy for her moms. I like how hard it is for her to come to trust her new friend, nicknamed “YP,” and her interpreter. I also like watching her struggle with breaking her moms’ trust, by still spray painting the town, and trying to keep her artwork alive and trying to deal with the hearing people around her. She is an interesting character.
I like the choices of writing style that come with Julia’s perspective as a deaf person. For example, when she is trying to read others’ lips, the dialogue shows the words she can catch and dashes to show what she couldn’t interpret. I also like some of the descriptions of signs and noting the combination of facial expressions.
YP is the person at Julia’s new school that tries to talk with her and to become her friend. I loved her as a contrast to Julia’s ex-best friend, and I love that she tries to learn American Sign Language. She does her best to get to know Julia and defends her when others are terrible to the new girl. Also, YP has an eating disorder that appears a few times. While I wish it was addressed more by her friend, it wasn’t the main focus of the book.
For the few mentions I heard about the novel on BookTube a couple years ago, I never knew that the novel was illustrated. The illustrations primarily consist of Julia’s art and sign language. The illustrations are more graphic, like you might see on a poster. They add to the story. The illustration below shows a sign that Julia and her street art nemesis tagged.
Another example of the illustrations are Julia signing her name (see the photo below). For my limited knowledge of ASL, I knew you could sign a name, but I didn’t realize that it went beyond finger-spelling or putting the first letter of your name on your heart. It makes sense, but I didn’t think about it.
There are also moments where you see the type of alarm clock that Julia has, an incident with police, and reading lips with Julia. Details like these introduce the hearing reader, like me, to d/Deaf culture in an immersive way. An important note: the author has made efforts to learn sign language, be connected to the d/Deaf community, and asked for input from those who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing on her novel.
You’re Welcome, Universe is a story about friendship, art, and betrayal. If you like middle grade books, like Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson or El Deafo by Cece Bell, you should enjoy this YA novel.