Once again, a book winning an award – in this case the Schneider Family Award – pushed me from meaning to read it someday to actually doing so.
You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner. Random House Teens, 2017.
Julia believes that graffiti is art, and she’s passionately devoted to it. She’s really just trying to help her best friend when she covers up some unfortunate slurs about her on the back wall of the school, slurs that were properly reported and that the administration has done nothing about. But the best friend snitches on her, and the administration doesn’t see it the same way.
Before she really knows what’s happened, Julia is kicked out of the Kingston School for the Deaf and trying regular school with a “terp” or interpreter named Casey. She’s not really interested in fitting in at school, and despises Casey’s friendly eagerness as well as the bubbly blond cheerleader-type girl she calls YP for the yoga pants she’s always wearing. Though Julia’s not about to give up graffiti, she’s incensed when someone else starts editing her graffiti, adding admittedly cool skeletons to her art.
Meanwhile, at school, lots of teachers seem to think she’s only pretending to be Deaf to get extra attention. The art teacher is one of the only understanding ones, and though he’s male, he’s somewhat saved from the unfortunate trope of the Super Insightful Teacher Dude who Makes a Difference by their being some very clueless male teachers as well, such as the teacher who assumes that when she says she admires her moms, it’s because she doesn’t know her English grammar. At home, though Julia loves her mothers, she’s not able to talk to them about her current struggles. Her job as a fryer at McDonald’s used to be at least a place to see her best friend, but this too becomes torture as her former best friend also works there, and starts crushing on the same boy as Julia.
Julia is full of anger at the world for much of the book, and even though I had to shake my head at some – make that many – of her choices, she also felt authentic to me. I appreciated that she was going to make her own way, no matter how hard she fell on the way, without giving in to any requests to smile along the way.
There is so much detail in this book about Deaf culture and the realities of living with hearing loss that I had to look it up – the author is not Deaf herself, but worked closely with members of that community to make it authentic. She is a graffiti artist herself, and this shows. I also appreciated that Julia is shown as an intersectional character – Deaf, South Asian-American, part of an LGBT family – with strong interests and identity outside of that. It’s definitely one I’ll be sharing with my own DHH daughter in a few years, and recommended especially now for fans of street art and contemporary YA fiction.