You're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
Summary: 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 parents 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 Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: What drew me to You're Welcome, Universe was the mention of deaf characters in that cover copy. Deaf culture fascinates me, and I've been watching Switched at Birth for years. Every bit of the Deaf/deaf culture in YWU felt authentic to me. Sometimes, I was confused as to if the characters were signing or speaking aloud, but I think that was pretty realistic. Julia, the protagonist, wouldn't constantly say, "I signed this" or "I signed that." She would say, "I said..." because ASL is her language. What also worked nicely was how Whitney Gardner wrote the moments when Julia was trying to lip-read and couldn't catch everything the hearing person said. Readers are very much inside Julia's head for this book, so I could feel her frustration, annoyance, and confusion.
Julia is definitely a teenager. She has her bratty moments and her stubbornness and her ridiculousness, but I felt like she made some good choices at the end of the day. She learned how to be more open to friendship, and she got rid of the fairly toxic friendship in her life. I could see how she loved and wanted to please her parents but was also balancing being herself.
I don't get street art, to be honest, so I didn't always love that plot line. There's a plot twist related that I really didn't expect. There were a few tiny hints, looking back, but it kind of came out of the blue for me. Still not certain if I liked that or didn't.
Side characters...Julia's parents shine. I grew to like Casey, even if she did try too hard, and Mr. Katz was cool. Jordyn pissed me off (I really wanted to shake her for her stupid choices), as did Donovan. YP (whose real name I wish we'd learned) had just as much of a character arc as Julia, which was great. Yay for friendship!
I appreciated that there was no romance. I felt like there two potentials for one to happen, and I honestly didn't see how either ship would've been good, so YWU gets major points for the lack of a romance. There is a moment between Julia and Donovan that kind of came out of nowhere and definitely annoyed me.
There's a fair bit of foul language, so I think that was the main thing keeping this from being a 4-star book.
The Verdict: I never experienced that deep love I feel while reading a new favorite, but this is such an important story.
Will I be adding this book to my library?: Already have.