Book Review: “You’re Welcome, Universe” by Whitney Gardner

I’m back with another book review, and this time it’s “You’re Welcome, Universe” by Whitney Gardner that I’m reviewing this time! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

“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.”

Just a disclaimer before I dive into the review: I am not a Hard-of-hearing or Deaf individual, and so I’m mainly reviewing this from purely storyline/plot-based focus. A lot of what I’ve written in this review is quite harsh, and I apologize for anything that may offend any Hard-of-hearing or Deaf individuals in this review.

What I liked about the book were the visuals, concepts, and explanations involved. Not only did we get to see pictures of the actual graffiti art, but we also got to see some diagrams of how to sign certain words, like “kissing” for example. There were also explanations for concepts such as name signs, fingerspelling, and even notes on interpreters. Even more interesting to read were experiences like Julia being unable to realistically lip-read is shown by blanks in the dialogue. Gardner gives consideration to details such as when Julia tries to determine what kind of music Beatles songs are by the lyrics, and everyday microaggressions as well. It’s clear that the author did tons of research on Deaf culture and it’s noted in the acknowledgements page that she consulted with Deaf beta readers and others from Hard-of-hearing or the Deaf community when writing the novel.

What I liked about the book stops there.

None of the characters were any ones that I honestly rooted for. Like “Tone Deaf,” this book features a deaf protagonist and her name is Julia. Unlike the protagonist in “Tone Deaf,” however, Julia isn’t exactly very convincing and comes off as incredibly whiny, and petty from one third of the book onwards. At first I sympathized with her in the beginning, because she was betrayed by her best friend and so she was expelled from school as a result, but I felt less and less sympathetic for her as the events of the book progressed, to the point of not really caring what happened with her. Her interactions with all of the other characters in the book, including Yoga Pants (yes, that girl is literally named Yoga Pants or YP for short, and I don’t think we ever find out her real name which makes no sense at all).

My biggest problem with Julia was with how her actions are so easily swept under the rug without consideration. She vandalizes other people’s property, slut-shames a girl for being “easier” after she apparently “stole Donovan”, lies to everyone, and constantly complains when she doesn’t get her own way instead of owning up to the troubling situations she gets in.

I especially really hated how Julia made out with Donovan and then snapped a photo of herself and him to send to Jordyn, who was dating Donovan at the time of the book. Even worse was the fact that Julia claimed she wasn’t a “cheater” like Donovan was AFTER MAKING OUT WITH HIM AND SENDING THAT PHOTO, and that just made me sit and…stare at the pages for a long, long moment.

In terms of plotlines, I felt that it was incredibly unresolved at the end, and that all the plotlines made little sense for the latter half of the book. There plotlines about the graffiti being legalized vs. not legalized that never got finished, characters like Katz and Casey randomly disappeared for virtually no reason, and the whole plotline with Jordyn and Donovan involved in a love triangle-ish-of-sorts with Julia made…no sense and did nothing but add unnecessary drama. Heck, even the plotline of Julia and her fights with her parents made no sense, nor did the development of YP’s friendship with Julia.

Overall, I’m rating the book 1 out of 5 stars. I would not recommend reading this due to the nonsensical plotlines, and badly written characters.

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