Book Reviews,  Coming of Age,  New Adult,  Realist Fiction,  Young Adult

Book Review: You’re Welcome, Universe

You're Welcome, UniverseYou’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Julia is a rebellious, troubled teenager with one passion in her life: Street art. Graffiti. She spends most of her time and energy just trying to figure out the sneakiest ways to replenish her supply of spray paint, planning out her pieces, and scheming how to stay invisible while ‘vandalizing’ underpasses, road signs, buildings, whatever surface calls to her. If she could spend 24 hours a day focused on her street art, she would. But life doesn’t work like that, and soon enough she’s in trouble at school, struggling with her friendships, lying to her parents, hurting her friends.

But being invisible is impossible when your constant companion in high school is your interpreter. Julia speaks American Sign Language, because she’s Deaf. She’s also Indian, though it’s refreshing that in this story that isn’t a problem. Having two moms is just part of normal life for Julia, too. But although she’s quite capable of communicating, through sign language, texting, and—in a pinch—speech, Julia’s weaponized her deafness, or to be more precise, wants to turn it into a cloak of invisibility.

Julia’s story is told in first-person-urgent (yes I made up the urgent part but it suits), which means that we only get to know what she knows. At times you’ll find yourself literally trying to fill in the gaps when others speak to her. If she can’t get the words, neither can you. Many of these gaps can be figured out, but only because you, the reader, have the luxury of being able to pause and stare at the sentence until you figure it out. But Julia can’t do that, she’s already focused on the next words as the speakers sometimes talk too fast, look away, or otherwise frustrate her attempts to understand.

Julia is a flawed protagonist. She’s angry, frustrated, bitter. She’s got the potential to become an excellent artist, she’s given everything she needs by her parents and her school to help her succeed, and friendships are always within reach, especially with the girl she’s nicknamed Yoga Pants. But, she self-sabotages herself at nearly every turn.

As a graffiti war amps up—to Julia’s mixed delight and frustration, a tantalizing feeling of anticipation builds for the reader. Whenever new street art goes up, we know when we turn the next page, we’ll see it. The author has not only written Julia’s story, she’s created her street art for us too!

Julia’s story held my attention right to the last page. Even when she was raging, I was cheering her on to overcome the situation of the moment. In spite of her rebellious lash-outs, I liked her and wanted the best for her.

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Lori Alden Holuta lives between the cornfields of Mid-Michigan, where she grows vegetables and herbs when she’s not writing, editing, or playing games with a cat named Chives.

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