You’re Welcome, Universe, by Whitney Gardner
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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.
Lesbian Characters (Mothers)
Coming of Age
I should start by saying that Just Love Reviews focuses exclusively on books with queer characters, which makes You’re Welcome, Universe a bit of an odd fit because the protagonist never declares exactly what her orientation is. Julia’s much too busy worrying about not getting caught when she’s tagging overpasses and trying to figure out who is sabotaging (or enhancing) her work. Even though there is mention of a boy crush, she does seem to have a completely open mind to sexuality, thanks in part to having lesbian parents. To be honest, she read as possibly asexual to me, but I think it’s too early to tell. If seventeen-year-old Julia hasn’t put much thought into it yet, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
So let’s get into this story, shall we? I adore when the plot has anything to do with art and/or music so I was very excited to read about a graffiti artist, especially since street art is a favorite of mine. I was pleased with the references to artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and The Beatles, and the illustrations throughout the book were a wonderful addition to the story. I also felt that Julia’s attitude towards creating art was admirable and says a lot about her.
“I never throw up a meaningless piece. It’s always attached to a memory, something I’ll recall every time I see it. It isn’t about seeing my art on a wall. It’s about putting a feeling out into the world. It’s communication, a release.”
That statement is key because not only does she want to express herself through her art but it’s also a form of communication without a language barrier. I learned a lot about deaf culture and I thought the way the dialogue was written did an excellent job of showing the frustrations of trying to talk to “hearies” who don’t know sign language (ASL). She’s cynical, headstrong and unapologetic, for that I can’t blame her, and I also liked her independent nature. She reminds me of myself as a teenager. I didn’t think I needed anyone and I’d brush off praise as if it were nothing even though deep down inside it made me feel good about myself.
You don’t have to read very far into the book to see why she would build walls around herself. Kids can be mean and not every teacher is amazing at their job. In addition, she’s been screwed over so she doesn’t notice a good friend when they’re standing right in front of her. Misunderstandings aside, I feel YP had good intentions and something that really bugged me was that Julia never bothered to learn her real name. She’s a little self-absorbed and focuses so much on her differences that she doesn’t recognize just how similar she is to others. However, in the end, I think she learns a good lesson about not judging others because we don’t always know what they’re going through and that pushing everyone away is rarely the best solution.
I wish I could’ve read a book like this when I was in high school. The art, the intersectionality, and everything else that has to do with being a “messed up” teenager would have made me feel less alone, even if I claimed that I was happy that way. This was an immensely enjoyable read and while it’s Miss Gardner’s first release, I’ll surely be checking out any of her future offerings as well. That said, if young adult is your jam then I think this is a must add to your TBR!
Whitney Gardner is an author, illustrator, and coffee addict. Originally from New York, she studied design and worked as an art teacher and school librarian before moving to Portland, Oregon, where she lives by a bridge with her husband and two pugs. In the rare moment Whitney isn’t writing or drawing, she’s likely to be reading comics, knitting, and tending her garden or apiary. You’re Welcome, Universe is her debut novel.
You can purchase YOU’RE WELCOME, UNIVERSE from:
Barnes & Noble
I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.