You’re Welcome, Universe
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Multigenre
Julia, a sixteen-year-old Deaf girl, loves art. Not just any art, mind you—she’s way into graffiti. She doesn’t see it as vandalism, even though she knows full-well that it’s illegal. It’s her soul she’s expressing, and she gets a rush every time she shakes a spray can and writes her tag, “Here,” on a wall.
But when her best friend betrays her and she gets kicked out of her special school for the Deaf, she finds herself stuck wandering through the hallways of a local public high school, an overenthusiastic interpreter at her side. She can’t even get into the advanced art class she wants to take because it was full when the school year started. On top of that, she’s still working at McDonald’s with her ex-best friend, who is crushing on Julia’s long-time crush, and her mothers seem to be out to ruin her life, and then there’s this girl in yoga pants who always seems to be getting in Julia’s face. And then some jerk starts defacing Julia’s art…
It’s almost more than a girl can be expected to handle. But with contraband spray paint in her backpack and bright yellow Doc Martens on her feet, Julia is determined to leave her mark on the universe.
Every once in awhile, there comes a book that you read and, upon finishing, you just kinda set it down and close your eyes and wonder how the heck you managed life before reading it.
You’re Welcome, Universe is one of those kinds of books.
I guess I should give some context first. I’m not really an artist, per se, and I most definitely have only ever used spray paint for cosplay purposes. Y’know, making “gold” broaches and “silver” swords out of foamboard and the like. But I live outside of a major city, and every time I take the train into town, I see graffiti on the buildings. Sometimes it’s what Julia would call “garbage,” some “toy” with a spray can making a mess. Other times it’s just…gorgeous. Breathtakingly so.
That’s what this book is like. Breathtaking.
Julia is such a strong character. She has a no-nonsense way about her, and she hates when people won’t listen. She’s proud of where she comes from, proud of being Deaf and Indian and the daughter of two equally-strong women. She’s been hurt and people have tried to tear her down, but she gets right up and keeps going. Sure, she’s got a bit of a chip on her shoulder, but that’s because she’s almost always been an outsider, even at the school for the Deaf. And her need to paint—she describes it as a real, visceral thing, deep down inside her that has to get out. I think there are a lot of kids who would sympathize with that. I know I do, when the poems come.
The rest of the cast is equally nuanced. Julia’s mothers, Mee and Ma, are both trying their best to raise a daughter who the world casts as a delinquent while still encouraging her to live her dreams. The ex-best friend, Jordyn, is slowly revealed to not just be a coward, but also a thick-headed flake. The new girl, “Yoga Pants,” or “YP,” starts off as a flake but turns out to be way more interesting and deep as the book goes on. The teacher, Mr. Katz, makes a legitimate effort to include Julia in his classroom, knowing how much she’s struggling to tread water at the new school. Casey, Julia’s assigned interpreter, proves to have a ball of fire in her heart that she’s not afraid to unleash when the situation calls for it.
I guess that’s what it is. Every single event, every single chapter unfolds like another one of Julia’s stencils on her latest masterpiece. Each time you think you’ve figured something out, Gardner throws you for a loop and you’re just stuck until you keep reading. It’s a debut novel that reads like a master’s carefully-crafted magnum opus.
Yes, it really is that good.
High schools need this to be available for their kids. It’s a twisty, turn-y, engaging read with a strong narrator and an excellent message.
- People with passion
- People who love art
- Bullying: characters bully each other in various ways
- Deceit: characters actively trick one another
- Lying: characters lie to one another
- Other Illegal Activity: characters participate in vandalizing public and private property by graffitiing it
- Prejudice: characters put others down for not being Deaf and/or hearing
- Sex: implied, but not shown on the page
- Swearing: plenty of swearing throughout
- Theft: characters discuss and engage in stealing
- Violence: characters physically harm one another
- Change vs. Tradition
- Growing Up
- Right vs. Wrong
- Romantic Love
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|Suspension of Disbelief||2|
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|Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation)||2|