Julia gets kicked out of her deaf school after her best friend turns her in for graffiti she did on school property. Julia can’t believe it, especially because she was covering up a slur about said best friend. Her moms send her to a “mainstream” school all the way out in the suburbs and forbid her from engaging in any street art. But it’s Julia’s only outlet, and when she realizes that another artist is tagging her stuff, she sees it as a challenge. Determined to figure out who is changing her art, she ends up embroiled in a graffiti war.
Gardner’s novel is smart, compelling, and features a heroine who is prickly, angry, and realistic. The novel presents Deaf culture well, allowing Julia to narrate the book with an authentic voice, and allowing the reader to experience the frustrations Julia faces in the hearing world. Spoken dialogue is punctuated with blank lines, representing the words that Julia wouldn’t be able to lip read. Throughout the book, Julia’s art offers additional insight into her world.
A varied cast of characters, including an at-times patronizing interpreter, teachers who have no idea how to best meet Julia’s needs, and an eager white girl Julia refers to as Yoga Pants, help round out the novel. There are moments where it feels as though there’s too much going on in the narrative, but Gardner’s strong grasp of Julia as a character helps readers wade through the myriad issues that pop up. The ending isn’t as tight as it could be, but it’s still a fun read all the same, offering readers insight into Deaf culture as well as the world of street art. Put this in the hands of people who liked the TV show Switched at Birth, because there are a lot of similarities to be found.
You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner. Knopf, 2017. Library copy.