Note – This review is an important one for me to write and it will most likely be a lot longer than usual. I will try not to mention spoilers but I can’t guarantee that it will be completely spoiler free.
Format – prose
Edition – e-book
Date of Publication – 7th March 2017
No of Pages – 306
Genre – YA Contemporary
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.
The Story – split up into sections so it is not one huge rambling mess!
One of my personal gripes in regards to diversity is the usual less than stellar and inaccurate portrayal of deafness and Deaf culture. This book completely nails it and it is the best I’ve seen. I’ve had no cause to mention it until now but my younger sister Sarah is profoundly Deaf, leading her life by constantly straddling the Deaf and Hearing worlds. Saying it is easy enough but living it is fraught with challenges – most of it due to ignorance and lack of understanding – and I saw that throughout this book.
The awareness that it brings is fantastic, mentioning cultural aspects that are important and a part of the Deaf identity – Sign Language, Cochlear Implants and their negative connotations, the imperfections of lip-reading, the giving of sign names, the use of technology, interpreters etc. It’s dropped in when it becomes relevant to the story but it is done in such a seamless manner that I know the author has done her research and talked to people who are d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing whilst writing this.
We’ve got the Deaf representation, Julia’s Deaf lesbian parents, YP who’s struggled with an eating disorder, the fact that Julia is Indian as well as Deaf. Whilst the latter are not really explored in depth, I still think it is great that we’ve got this representation and maybe it’s the influence readers and writers need to explore it further.
I’ve read quite a few relatable characters, especially those that remind me of myself, but Julia speaks to me as if she was my sister. Whilst reading this I could see Sarah swapping places with Julia and sharing those educational experiences such as tackling teachers who refuse to accept Sign Language as an actual language, interpreters who don’t always act professional, getting irritated by the communication barrier, helping people to understand that being Deaf is not something to be apologetic about.
What stands out for me is that she is not perfect, she has her flaws, makes mistakes, therefore being a strong character. Yeah, I found myself irritated with her at times but when I stopped to think about it and what she’s had to adjust to in going from a Deaf to Mainstream educational environment, it made her even more realistic and relatable, mainly because I’ve experienced my sister go through that and helped her with it. It also made me look at my own flaws and remind me that there is still a lot about Deaf culture and deafness that I don’t know because no experience is truly the same regardless of similarities – Julia grows up in a Deaf household; Sarah is the only one in my family who is Deaf.
Nonetheless, her deafness doesn’t carry the story; it is just who she is. Her main identity is that of an artist and I really like that it drives her and influences her choices, both good or bad. It’s how she tells the world that she is here, and more importantly that she is a visible human being like everybody else.
Unlike some reviews I’ve heard and seen, I really liked the writing style because it is the perfect way of really getting into Julia’s head and seeing the world through her eyes. We see her directness, feel her attitude, see that lip-reading is a fallible art because it is an extension of her character.
I also like that the author doesn’t feel the need to always write “she signed” at the end of the dialogue. It takes a while but I see the signed dialogue in my head, albeit in BSL instead of ASL. It is an incredibly visual experience and I wish there could be more of it.
The addition of art as a communication device:
Art is such an important part of this story and to have some illustrations alongside the writing is fantastic. What I love the most are the signs that are represented, specifically Julia’s sign name, and the sign for ‘family’. They make it personal, strengthen the book’s messages, and show the visual nature of Sign Language that may not always come across in the writing. I’ve been wondering how to show it in something I’ve tried to write and now it doesn’t seem to be an impossible feat anymore.
I’m not usually a fan of anything graffiti or street art but I think it is a great means of expression and a way for Julia to reinstate herself in the universe. It is also good to explore that distinction between graffiti and street art because it is a fine line and one that I don’t know much about. I didn’t even see the plot twist coming either which is always a bonus.
Family and Friendship Focus
I can’t express how much I love family and friendship focus in books and this is really strong in You’re Welcome Universe. Julia has really supportive mothers and it is great to see that they want to know what’s going on with their daughter and help her when problems arise. They also prove that they don’t have to be the conventional stereotypical family unit to be strong, loving and supportive so it is breaking those boundaries and helping readers realise this is just as normal.
Julia has two distinctive friends in this – Jordyn and YP. The friendship with Jordyn comes across as problematic and I can completely understand why Julia wants nothing to do with it. She does all these things for her friend and gets nothing in return, which is hugely unfair. It feels realistic to me and it is similar to friendships that both my sister and I have had.
So Julia’s friendship with YP is definitely one I feel merits attention. You don’t expect it is going to happen until Julia gives YP her sign name and then suddenly it becomes really strong. When YP says that she will continue learning ASL for Julia, you know that she is serious about this and that she will be the friend Jordyn failed to be. It’s an experience my sister and I have shared when we were little and it’s nice for the author to put across that Deaf and Hearing people can totally be friends when there is acceptance and understanding.
The one that hit me the most is that everybody has a voice that has a right to be heard. Julia’s voice is her signing and her art, and when someone tries to tamper with that, it is as if she is being silenced. It hits me more profoundly when YP goes to restrain Julia’s hands at one point because it reminds me of a time when Deaf children were not allowed to use sign language in schools and they had their hands restrained or beaten during school hours to prevent them from signing.
As you can probably tell, I really love this book and everything it stands for. The only minor issue I’ve got is that it doesn’t really explore the other aspects of representation but in relation to everything else, it doesn’t bother me too much. I’m all over it for the amazing Deaf representation and awareness!
I need to now get a physical copy of it so I can give it to my sister in the hope she will read it!
I also can’t currently stop thinking about it so please leave comments if you have read it and have any questions relating to it that you think I may be able to answer!
As this is long enough, I am going to leave out any thoughts about the cover.
Thanks for reading and have a good day!
6 thoughts on “Review | You’re Welcome Universe by Whitney Gardner”
I absolutely love your review and how in depth you talked about this book ❤ I've heard such great things about this one and I can't wait to read it! I'm so glad that you thought this was a good representation and portayal of deafness because not everyone knows how to do it right.
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Thanks. I think this is the only review where I have really pointed out specifics and written about them in depth because the representation is important to me and my sister.
That portrayal is one that I always worry about because I am super nit-picky about it. Like you said, it is not always done right and a lot of authors don’t take the time to check or do the research. The author did say in the acknowledgements that she had sensitivity readers and interacted with the d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, and I could instantly recognise that she’d done a lot of research.
I’m glad that I read it as well because it has given me the motivation to look at my own half-written stories with Deaf main characters and portray different perspectives because not all d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing people share the exact experiences.
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I’m really excited to read this one. I love seeing everyone’s reviews, because it just makes me more sure I’ll love it.
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