Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2
We should all know by now that diversity and accurate representation are super important in YA. However, diversity in books also makes for kickass storytelling and is a way to start learning about and understanding various types of people. Also, intersectionality is key, meaning showing layered diverse experiences. If you’re looking for a place to start, I can’t recommend Whitney Gardner’s diverse debut You’re Welcome, Universe enough.
Julia, the main character, is a Deaf Indian girl with two moms. Oh, and she’s a kickass graffiti artist. After tagging her school to defend her best friend Jordyn’s honor, Julia is expelled and sent to public school in where she struggles to make friends and relies upon Casey, an interpreter, to communicate with those around her. Her only outlet is graffiti, which she must keep a secret, and even that seems like it may be taken away from her by a rival.
One of the parts I loved best about this book is its representation of Deaf culture. I can’t speak to its accuracy because I’m a hearie and thus not Deaf, but I felt like I learned a lot about the experience of being Deaf, signing and some of the struggles of living without hearing through reading this book.
Building off of that, I loved Julia’s voice. She’s a teenage girl who doesn’t take any shit, but she’s also vulnerable and still coming into her own. I loved her descriptions of working with her art and her sarcasm. Her personality jumped off the page and I liked feeling like I was going on this journey with her, as she learned what it meant to be both a friend and an artist, no matter the cost.
If you’re looking for a contemporary read where romance isn’t the central plot line or even a sub plot line and isn’t totally sad, this is the book for you. It has so much heart and at its core is a tale of friendship and reaching one’s potential, whatever that might mean.
The other characters were all depicted in a way that was nuanced and intriguing. YP was one of my favorite characters. I found Jordyn and Donovan to be super annoying, but I can relate to having a fallout with a friend who you felt closer to than they did to you. I also loved Mr. Katz, as I found that my art teachers were always some of the most supportive when I was in high school. Mee and Ma, Julia’s moms, were also highlights.
Gardner spun a tale that was pieces funny and sad, but always honest and unflinchingly real. I loved the little details that exposed some of the character’s struggles in a way that was impactful even if they were only a sentence or two. From the discrimination Mee and Ma face to comments Julia must endure at her job at McDonald’s,
The design of this book was also phenomenally done. The girl on the cover actually matches the description of Julia in the book, down to her signature yellow Docs. I also liked that the cover uses Julia’s tag in the book and shows that she’s a WOC. The chapter headings were adorable emoticon faces, which Julia uses throughout the book as well. Finally, the illustrations are gorgeous. I just wish there were more.
This isn’t to say the book was without its flaws. A little bit more background on graffiti culture was needed, as Julia’s concerns didn’t always seem to line up with the situation. Additionally, there were some parts of the book that fell flat for me. Julia should’ve just ditched on Jordyn right away and the drama between Kyle and Julia didn’t come to any kind of satisfying conclusion. The bad guy who turns out to be kind of a good guy trope is getting old. Parts like this felt a little forced, but they didn’t overpower what was otherwise a very strong book.
This book is super worth the read. It’s quick, it’s fairly light and it’s super good. You’re not going to want to miss out on this gorgeous contemporary. Plus, the last scene is super, super cute, but you have to read it yourself to find out why. 😉