You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner, Alfred A Knopf, 2017. ISBN: 9780399551413. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
Julia lives in a different world than most teens. She’s deaf, daughter of a lesbian couple who are also deaf as was the sperm donor. Her odds of being born deaf were pretty high. While she’s adjusted to some aspects of life, her deafness has left her feeling isolated in others and that, coupled with her secret addiction, is creating problems in her life.
When she gets frustrated over the principal at her deaf school failing to cover or remove the slur painted on a wall referring to her best (and really only) friend, she takes matters in her own hands and creates a mural to cover the offending words. After her friend rats her out, she’s not only expelled, her moms clamp down on her freedom, concerned she’ll do more tagging or illegal street art and get in more trouble. For Julia, this is akin to removing all joy and anticipation from her life.
She’s sent to attend what she calls a hearie school (a public high school), but fitting in, even (or in spite of) with Casey, the interpreter her moms have hired, is anything but smooth. She can’t read lips as well as she’d like and few of her teachers or fellow students know or care to use signing, so she starts feeling even more alone.
When she gives in to sneaking, stealing paint from someone she likes and wants to respect, and creating street art, she’s shocked to discover someone else almost immediately paints over it. While she sees it as a challenge, others are impressed at the synergy created by two street artists. As Julia tries to uncover who her rival is, she must navigate the tricky waters at home, at school and at her job cooking fries at McDonalds. It’s a tortuous path, one that sometimes leaves the reader borderline annoyed with her self-centeredness. However, if they take a moment to reflect on Julia’s passion, her social unease and isolation from mainstream teens, her thoughts and behaviors aren’t so odd. By the time you get to the end, you’re treated to an introspective and satisfying story of a girl navigating multiple challenges and discovering friendship and who she really is in the process.