You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
Published on March 7th 2017 by Knopf
Genre: contemporary (YA)
Rating: 3/5 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.
I was so excited when I saw this book in my local library! A contemporary YA novel with deaf culture representation? Sign me up! I really need to learn more about Deaf culture, considering the only mainstream TV shows I have watched with deaf characters is Switched at Birth. At least, that’s all I can come up with at the moment… So I was quite excited to read this book, and started it pretty much immediately after coming back from the library. But I’m sad to say that I was a tad disappointed by this book.
Since I am not deaf myself, I can’t make any claims on whether the representation is true and correct at all. I haven’t seen any #ownvoices reviews, so for now I’ll assume that the representation is accurate.
This book taught me quite a lot about Deaf culture and ASL that I didn’t know before. For example, Julia (the main character) can’t speak or write perfectly correct English. By that, I mean that her English sentences often have spelling or grammatical mistakes in them. That’s because ASL (American Sign Language) is a language of itself, and not just a mere translation of English. That means that sentences are formed differently in ASL, which makes English her second language -and is a lot harder. That’s something I never really thought about before! I mean, I knew that ASL was its own language and not just a translation but I didn’t fully realize what that meant in practice.
Secondly, it also made me realize how stupid and hurtful a lot of the things hearing people say to deaf people are. Not only the things we say or the ignorant questions we ask, but also our attitude towards deaf people in general. How we assume that deaf people want to be hearing, how ASL seems fascinating and cool until we realize that it’s a whole language and give up, how we are unwilling to learn basic signs to communicate with others, how we don’t realize how difficult lip-reading can be and how much attention and concentration it requires to keep up with a conversation that way, how grabbing a deaf person’s hands is the equivalent of putting your hand over someone’s mouth and silencing them, and more. Aside from those things, there was also a passage in this book where the MC had to communicate with police officers. It can be terrifying because you have no idea what’s going on or what they are saying, and without the use of your hands, you can’t communicate at all.
All in all, this book taught me a lot and gave me even more to think about. I’m very grateful for that! Let me know whether you’ve seen any #ownvoices reviews, and whether the representation is accurate according to you!
This book revolves around Julia being expelled, going to a hearing school for the first time, and painting graffiti.
I thought I’d really like reading about her experiences and her graffiti, because it quite intrigues me. But overall, I just found the graffiti-centered story line of this book somewhat ridiculous? Maybe that’s because I don’t know anything about graffiti or the culture around it. The point is that Julia paints graffiti, and someone adds to her paintings. To her, this is sacrilege and results in a graffiti war. To me, it was slightly ridiculous because the other person actually made her paintings even more beautiful? Why not paint together? But again, maybe that’s just because I’m not immersed in that culture.
I did like what Julia said about the difference between graffiti and vandalism. She stated that graffiti is art that adds something of value to the world: it can point out injustices, stand up for something or someone, or more. The point is that it has meaning in society. Vandalism is meaningless: just someone painting their name on buildings has no meaning at all.
This is the reason I didn’t give this book more than 5 stars: the characters. I really didn’t like Julia, and since this book is from her perspective it affected my reading experience a lot. Usually, I don’t mind unlikeable characters. As long as there is a reason behind their behavior, or something intriguing about their personality, I’ll like reading about them.
Julia, however, was just over the top angsty, dramatic, rude and angry. Not to mention judgmental. She has an incredible home life with two moms who absolutely adore her. Yet she often gets so angry at them for no reason at all, and treats them so badly. Yes, I do know that she is a teenager and that teenagers are angsty and get angry for no reason. Up to a certain point, I can live with that. But this…
To me, the worst part about Julia was how she judged everyone and then judged someone else for being judgmental. Really, girl? Really? She quite literally gets angry at a girl for judging someone and states that she would never do that, when three paragraphs ago she was judging the same girl for going on dates with many guys. YOU are the judgmental person here. She also made me feel like she slut-shamed a lot of girls.
Slight spoiler ahead! At some point, she sleeps with a guy to prove to her friend that he is not trustworthy. Then she texts that friend a picture to prove that while she is a liar, at least she is not a cheater. WHAT THE HELL? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? End spoiler.
One more thing, and one that greatly amused me, was the weird ways to describe another person/her attraction to another guy. There’s one in particular, where she describes the guy as “as he leans on the window with those forearms of his-you know, the kind with perfectly smooth arm hairs-[…]” While I have noticed many things about people I have been attracted to, the smoothness of their arm hair is not one of them.
I think this book definitely had the potential to be incredible. To me, it was just okay though. Good, but not great. Julia prevented me from really enjoying the book. However, I very much appreciated the look into Deaf culture this provided, and I will be on the hunt for more books like it.