You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner follows an alienated teenage girl named Julia, which seems to be a trope for almost every Young Adult novel these days. But Gardner made this cliche her own by writing about the alienation not having a particular sense and interacting in a world that does not adapt to someone’s limitations.
Julia is Deaf, "Big-D" Deaf, as she explains to her friend that we only know via her name sign: YP. For readers who have had no experience with the Deaf Community and some of the issues many Deaf people face, this book will give them insight into what Deaf people face on an almost daily basis. (The capital letter on Deaf is very important to the Deaf Community.)
Julia gets expelled from her School for the Deaf for covering up graffiti denigrating her friend with her art, made via spray paint and stencils, and must exist in an environment entirely geared towards the hearing: public high school. With the help of her interpreter Cindy, Julia must navigate high school when separated from everything that she knew and separated from her love: art.
Not only does Julia face public school but she does so without any friends. That’s how she got caught at her old school; the cardinal sin of taking a photo and sharing said photo. The photo she sent was to her denigrated friend, and that phone was the one shown to Julia as proof that she committed the heinous crime of protecting her friend via graffiti.
Julia’s graffiti artist ways do not stop with her expulsion. She continues on to decorate a stop sign, a scoreboard, and an underpass. All whom a rival artist also "contributes" to and Julia feels attacks her work. Julia is searching for the artist while becoming closer to her only friend, YP. YP has her own problems that aren’t spelled out until right before the climax of the novel that includes police officers stopping Julia and the rival artist on the street near a new piece of art.
The isolation from communication is indicated throughout the novel by the blanking out of words during a conversation that Julia is witnessing. This shows the difficulty that Deaf people have in a complete Hearing environment. There is also the difficulty that is dealt with when the school transfers Julia into the ESL class. ESL stands for English as a Second Language. This acronym is not overtly explained in the book until there is an explosion between the ESL teacher and Cindy. This is well worth reading for those that think that American Sign Language (ASL) is English with gestures. It is not. It has a different syntactic structure. (Its sentence structure is more like Spanish than English.)
The problems that Julia face throughout this novel are similar to the ones that every YA protagonist faces. When she says that no one understands her, or that few people understand her, she is 100 percent telling the truth. In this predominantly Hearing world, few people are willing to learn how to sign and make the Deaf people in their lives included in family parties and events. This book sheds light on that deficiency and makes me want to crack open my ASL textbooks and study a bit to correct mine.
This book was a phenomenal read. I recommend to all, Deaf and Hearing alike.