You're Welcome, Universe
You're Welcome, Universe
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Annotation: Creating a graffiti mural to cover up a nasty slur about her best friend written on the back of their school for the deaf, Julia is expelled and sent to a mainstream school where she is treated like an outcast while continuing to paint graffiti before a mysterious fellow artist starts adding creative touches to her work.
Catalog Number: #6135853
Format: Paperback
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Random House
Copyright Date: 2018
Edition Date: 2018
Pages: 297 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-399-55144-1
ISBN 13: 978-0-399-55144-4
Dewey: Fic
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Julia does graffiti art to elevate the spaces and people around her. She won't stop, even when a piece obscuring a slur about her friend Jordyn on the wall of Kingston School for the Deaf gets Julia expelled, and Jordyn doesn't even care. At public high school, Julia gains an interpreter who tattles on Julia to both of her moms, the unwanted adoration of a bubbly girl she dubs YP (for Yoga Pants), the ire of just about everyone else, and an insatiable urge to continue her risky art form. When YP persists in her efforts at friendship, Julia begins to let her guard down, bringing YP into her world of tagging and eventually learning that YP has some secrets of her own. Julia's motivations are complex, and the intersectionality of her character is appealingly realistic. Gardner brings together Deaf culture, discrimination, sexuality, friendship, body image, trust, betrayal, and even a potential Banksy spotting for this fresh novel, brightened by black-and-white illustrations from Julia's notebooks.
Horn Book
Indian American graffiti artist Julia's latest work (covering up a slur about her friend) gets her expelled from Kingston School for the Deaf and sent to mainstream school, complete with communication breakdowns and bullying. There Julia finds she's not the only one who expresses through public art what she can't elsewhere. A nuanced narrative at the intersection of Deaf- and graffiti culture.
Kirkus Reviews
A deaf, Indian-American teen with a flair for graffiti learns how to make her mark. With two deaf moms, a deaf school, and Jordyn, her deaf best friend, Julia Prasad has always been unapologetically deaf. But when she paints graffiti over a slur about Jordyn and is expelled, she's thrust into the chaos of mainstream high school with a patronizing interpreter, clueless teachers, and persistent bullying. Spoken dialogue is broken by blank lines, representing the words she realistically can't lip-read. Graffiti, despite its illegality, is her only outlet besides art class. Julia's cynical wit is augmented by illustrations of her work, which reveals the parts of her personality that English and her rebellious exterior can't express. ASL signs emphasize her points. When she discovers that her work is being altered, she enters a risky graffiti war as she looks for the culprit. Meanwhile, she befriends "Yoga Pants," an overeager white girl, in spite of herself. Several red herrings later, the culprit forces her to evaluate the differences between art and vandalism and between listening and hearing. Eating disorders, racism, and homophobia are mentioned in passing. In scenes that smack of wish fulfillment, iconic street artist Banksy makes a cameo appearance. Julia's strong voice and multifaceted background offer an eye-catching glimpse of graffiti culture while introducing deaf culture. (Fiction. 14-18)
Publishers Weekly
Gardner-s debut novel opens with high school junior Julia Prasad getting expelled from the Kingston School from the Deaf after getting caught spray-painting an elaborate graffiti mural on the building. Julia, who is deaf herself, struggles to let people in and is suspicious of everyone around her, instead devoting her time and attention to her art, specifically the graffiti she paints on whatever public space she can get away with. Gardner-s glimpse into the world of a deaf teenager is fresh and compelling. Julia-s drawings pepper the story, the images representing her graffiti (which feature her tag, -HERE-) and the ASL signs she teaches a new friend, whom she nicknames YP (for Yoga Pants). Julia-s willingness to trust YP unfolds little by little, hitting bumps major and minor, in a satisfying story about trust, forgiveness, hard work, and friendship. Less central but equally rewarding is Julia-s relationship with her mothers, both of whom are deaf, and who do their best to support their daughter at every turn. Ages 12-up. Agent: Brent Taylor, Triada U.S. (Mar.)

School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up&12; After executing her best-ever graffiti, to cover up an insult written about her friend, Julia is kicked out of her Deaf school and mainstreamed. Frustrated by trying to connect with her hearing peers, Julia delves deeper into her art, only to find a rival defacing her finest creations. This debut novel is a dive into self-discovery for Julia and a compelling, engaging read for a wide variety of teens, including those interested in graffiti and street art. The author has clearly done her research on both Deaf and graffiti culture, and she incorporates details about both communities organically into the narrative. The translation of American Sign Language and Deafspeak to the page is done effectively, although it takes a backseat to native English narration. Julia, who has two mothers and resembles her parent of South Asian descent, inhabits many minority identities (disabled, a person of color, the child of same-sex parents, an English language learner) without any one of them being the engine for the story. She is a complex protagonist, and the secondary characters are well-developed, too. A few plot threads aren't fully explored, but overall, this is a well-told, artsy coming-of-age tale that is also an excellent representation of a Deaf protagonist. VERDICT The rich characterizations and focus on often underrepresented cultural communities make this a noteworthy debut for both school and public libraries.&12; L. Lee Butler, Hart Middle School, Washington, DC
Voice of Youth Advocates
Julia’s passion is her art. She expresses, communicates, and retaliates through her artistic skills. Her main method involves tagging public places, resulting in being expelled from her school for the deaf. Now, she has to learn how to integrate into a public school full of “hearies,” Julia’s nickname for those who are not deaf. On top of school drama, Julia faces conflicts with her backstabbing ex-best friend, clueless new teachers, her untrusting parents, and her invisible graffiti-war rival—someone who mars her original artwork and turns it into his/her own. Most of all, she must learn to open up to those who are there to help her.
Word Count: 62,609
Reading Level: 4.2
Interest Level: 7-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.2 / points: 9.0 / quiz: 188179 / grade: Upper Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:4.4 / points:16.0 / quiz:Q70653
Lexile: HL610L

"You don't have any proof!" I snap at our principal.


"Don't lie to me, Julia. You'll only make it worse." His hands are big, with stubby fingers. He might be hearing, but he signs perfectly. He has to, or he never would have gotten the job.


"I'm not lying! You can't say it was me." I know there are no cameras on that side of Kingston. I know there won't be any footage to review.


"I have all the proof I need. Look at your hands!"


I'm so stupid. I was being lazy. I'm going to need to buy gloves. Lots and lots of gloves.


"This was from art class." I sign as fast as I can before dropping my hands out of view and into my lap.


"I'm going to give you one more chance to tell the truth, Miss Prasad." Mr. Howard seems more agitated than angry. He keeps sighing, looking at me with droopy, tired eyes.


"I don't know what to tell you. Sorry." Let me go already, you've got nothing. He stares at me, waiting for a better answer. I'm not giving it to him. I'm not confessing to anything, as much as I want to take credit for it. He hangs his head and pinches the bridge of his nose.


"Well, what can you tell me about this?"


My heart shakes up in my chest like a paint can as he produces a cell phone from his desk drawer, the case dotted with red cherries. It's Jordyn's. He slides it across the desk like some detective on Law & Order.


I don't want to look. I don't need to. I know what's about to happen. And I know without looking that Jordyn, my best friend in the universe, sold me out. How could she?


"The paint on your hands, the picture on her phone. You can't tell me you didn't do it."


"Fine. But I was covering up--"


"That's not your job."


"Well, whose job is it? Because that nasty graffiti was up there forever."


"Not your job. We had someone scheduled to take care of it."


"But mine is art!"


"That's not art, it's vandalism. I'm worried about you; you're not exactly showing any remorse here," he lectures. My face flushes hot with rage. He's not worried about me, he's relieved he has someone to pin it on. I wonder if the slut-shaming toy-tagger got the fifth degree, too. I doubt it.


"I don't understand what the big deal is! I didn't hurt anyone. I didn't destroy anything. I've tagged the girls' room dozens of times. No one cared then--"


"You what?!" His face is turning as red as mine.


"So now, when I try to make something worthwhile, art even, you're up in arms, calling me a vandal?" Just tell me how much detention I have so we can all move on with our lives, and I can X-Acto-cut Jordyn out of mine. I wonder how long she had to sit here before stabbing me in the back. She's spineless, so she's always asked me to break the rules for her. Which I've done plenty of times, because I thought we were a team. I bet all Mr. Howard had to do was ask, and she rolled right over like a David Hockney dachshund. The light by Mr. Howard's door flashes, indicating first period is about to begin. All my anger fizzles away and I just feel weak, depleted at the thought of Jordyn heading off to her first class, no worries, all smiles, while I get interrogated.


Mr. Howard stands up and walks to his office door without saying a word. He opens it and my stomach flips; all my bravado turns bashful as he ushers my mothers into the room. It's one thing to piss off the principal. I can barely look at my parents as he tells them I'm expelled.




It's silent.


Who am I kidding? It's always silent, but this--I can feel it. Like for the first time, I know what the word really means. It pounds in my head. Silence is the loudest sound. Ma doesn't scowl in the rearview. Mee doesn't sign a word.


I messed up. It was beautiful. Not a masterpiece but, I don't know, close? Didn't matter, got caught. Shouldn't have done it on school property and definitely shouldn't have texted anyone evidence; those were toy mistakes and I knew better. I stood up for Jordyn, tried to save her dignity. She cried and cried the day we discovered it. And when it looked like the school wasn't going to help her, I did. I helped her, and she ratted me out--I just don't understand. I get expelled and Jordyn gets what? Nothing.


The expulsion was an overreaction, if you ask me. But that was the "final straw" and "the school won't be responsible" for whatever "mayhem" (really?) I cause next. My first real piece and I'm expelled. And now I need a new tag. Go ahead, call me a vandal, say I'm some sort of delinquent, it isn't going to insult me. It's not going to stop me. Please. This is what I live for.


Silence. I stare at the backs of my parents' heads, waiting for one of them to start in on me. Waiting for Mee's pointer finger to fly to her chin with that grimace she saves for special occasions.






It never comes, so I kick off my shoes and rush upstairs as soon as we're home. If they're not talking yet, I'm not going to be the first. I crash-land onto my bed face-first and grip the quilt in clenched fists. I pound the mattress. What's! Wrong! With! Her?! Who would do something like that? She was the only real friend I had, the only one who knew me and my whole paint-splattered story. It eats at me, worming its way through my stomach and up to my brain. Neither organ can make any sense of it.


My phone vibrates in my pocket, and I'm hoping Jordyn has a damn good explanation for what she did to me. Because only one person I know would be texting me right now.



JORDYN: Srry :(


JULIA: щ(ºДºщ)


That's it?


JORDYN: They were gonna call the cops. On meeee!


JULIA: ¬_¬


JULIA: No. They weren't.




JULIA: They kicked *me* out!


JORDYN: I didnt think they would really do it.




JORDYN: Idk. I mean u did break the law and stuff.


JULIA: Standing up for you!


JORDYN: U didn't have to. I didnt ask u.


JULIA: Are you kidding me?!?!


JORDYN: It's not like u care abt getting in trouble.


JORDYN: I did u a favor. Ur gonna be famous now.


JORDYN: Don't be so mad.



I stuff my phone under my pillow. I don't care what else she has to say. Nothing can make up for what's already been done. Nothing.





I love gray days. Every tree, building, telephone pole highlighted against the gesso-colored sky. This past week has been especially overcast and it's a relief. I thought getting registered at a new school would take at least a month, that I would get to stay out of the educational system for a while. But with both of my moms at the helm, it only took four days. Now, three weeks in at Finley, the spotlight hasn't grown any dimmer. I welcome the clouds. Bring on the fog.


It's getting to be that time of year when it's still dark in the morning and the roads are empty. The drive to Finley is one of the few things I don't hate about the transfer. You would think the forty minutes it takes to commute from Queens Village would suck, but I love driving. Gives me time to think. I drive through the 'burbs of Greenlawn with the tree-lined sidewalks and traffic lights reflecting in the wet road. The leaves aren't turning yet, but they're about to. I spot a red leaf here and there, pilot lights to the season. Just me and my car, Lee.


Good ole Lee. I bought her off of Craigslist this summer for twelve hundred bucks, a 1994 Oldsmobile. She's older than I am, but she's got some moves left. When I got her, she was this horrible maroon color. Now she's perfect: black and white, with flecks of color here and there. Krasner meets Basquiat. That's Lee. She's the only real friend I have left, the only one who's never let me down.


I fish through my bag on the passenger seat, getting my morning ritual started en route. Pull out a can of Red Bull, hold it between my thighs (I'm an expert at driving one-handed), and crack it open. I hate coffee. It's either bitter or sour or chalky, not to mention the bad breath. Red Bull isn't the most delicious morning elixir, but a girl's gotta get a jolt from something.


Pulling into the parking lot of my new hellscape, I look for a spot up front in case I need to make a quick getaway. I haven't actually tried escaping from school yet, but you never know. Doesn't matter that the overly accommodating administrators reserved a spot for me next to the front doors. I refuse to park there. I can walk. Don't baby me.


I don't get the best spot this morning, but it's not a gym day, so I probably won't feel the need to flee. I reach to put Lee into Park when--SLAM!--she lurches forward and my seat belt digs into my chest. I swivel around in my seat and look out the rear window.


Kyle Fucking Stokers.


He tried to park in my spot, not noticing that my car was already there. What a tool. He's one of those people who's unaware of anyone or anything else in his vicinity. Bow down to him, the only person on earth who truly matters. So of course this whole ordeal is about to be blamed on me. Doesn't matter that I was already parked, minding my own business. I exist, therefore I am at fault.


I get out, not bothering to put on my shoes. My socks are getting damp as I walk around on the wet pavement. Lee's bumper is okay, no real harm done. Tough bird. Some of my paint job has come away, but the maroon showing through isn't a tragedy. I'm the only person who would even notice. Before I can get a closer look, there's hands on my shoulders and Kyle spins me around to face him. He's yelling.


"What----------parking here?!"


There's always a moment when one of these kids asks me a question and I have to figure out if speaking is worth the risk.


I cross my arms.


"You--aint--my bum--r!" he rages. It's not easy to lip-read when people are yelling at you. Despite what the distorted-face yeller might actually think.


I stare back at Kyle. He probably spent more time on his dusty blond hair this morning than I ever spend on mine. He has great eyebrows, but that's beside the point.


"Well?" He gestures to his car again and again, trying to drive his point home.


Walking over to his slick silver car, I spit on my sleeve. I should be yelling at him. I should scream and say, "You ran into ME, dipshit!" Honestly? He's not worth it. I buff off the paint and gesture at the spot. All better. I raise my eyebrows and smile. He doesn't catch the sarcasm.


"Bitches shouldn't drive," he says slowly, deliberately. I catch every word. He turns and walks toward the school. I imagine throwing my keys at him, chasing him down, kicking his shins until he's on the ground. I slam my fists into his chest over and over and--


There's a tap on my shoulder and I snap to. Kyle disappears into school through the double doors.


"Julia! Where are your shoes?" Casey signs. She's looking at me like I'm crazy, not a hair out of place in her perfectly cut chin-length bob. Her eyes behind her black-framed glasses are magnified to a ridiculous size, like something out of a Margaret Keane painting. I point over to Lee.


"One minute," I reply. "See you in history." I shoo her away from me, because the last thing I need is Casey thinking she can solve all my problems outside of class, too.


I get back in the car and peel off my socks. Great. Now I'm going to end up with blisters. Mee bought me new Doc Martens before the transfer. She winked when she gave them to me--a signal she reserves for when something is to be kept just between us. Ma would kill her if she knew Mee was buying me gifts now. Rightfully so; I know I don't deserve them. But they make me smile. They're yellow, my favorite color. Problem is, they're impossible to break in and twice as impossible to drive in, so I drive in my socks and put the boots on before school. I squeeze my size 10 feet in and lace them up loosely.


I reach into the backseat to grab my hoodie, but the one I pull out isn't mine. It's Jordyn's, all purple and pilly. It even smells like her. How long has it been in here? Sand spills out of the folds, and I remember that day on Coney Island when we shared a spicy mango on a stick. Like we always did. Like we never will again. Not any time soon. I shove it under the passenger seat. I can't stand to look at it right now.


I need my own hoodie, my trusty black-faded-gray-with-age armor. The sleeves and hem flecked with rainbows of spray paint. This is what I wear when I go out and tag stuff. I yank the zipper up to my chin, and I'm protected. The hood falls over my two loose black buns, down over my ears. I take my bag, open my second Red Bull, and drink it, heading toward the big blue building.


At first I thought transferring to Finley wouldn't be a big deal. School is school; I hated it at Kingston, I'd hate it at Finley. I mean, Jordyn is always going out with hearies and they seem fine, but it's not like I'm looking to make friends. I don't have time for that shit anymore. Not after Jordyn showed me what she's really made of. No one here would even notice me, right?


Casey took care of that right quick. Having an interpreter in every class is like having a giant neon sign hanging around your neck, blinking: Freak Freak Freak. I've been here three weeks and people are still confused about how it all works. It's not hard: teacher talks, interpreter signs, I understand. They act like Casey's conjuring black magic, waving her arms around, when really she's only blathering on about tariffs or decimal places.


I toss the empty Red Bull into the recycling bin and head for my locker. Mine is stuck in the freshman hall, even though I'm a junior, because it's one of the few left over from the start of the year. I open it up and all of a sudden I feel lighter. I take a certain pride in every tag, and I've done a good job claiming my space here. I know I shouldn't have tagged the inside of the door, but I couldn't help myself. A new color for every week, my tag, my sign: HERE.

Excerpted from You're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

A vibrant, edgy, fresh new YA voice for fans of More Happy Than Not and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, packed with interior graffiti.

Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award!

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 two mothers 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.
Told with wit and grit by debut author Whitney Gardner, who also provides gorgeous interior illustrations of Julia’s graffiti tags, You’re Welcome, Universe introduces audiences to a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way.

"[A] spectacular debut...a moving, beautifully written contemporary novel full of quirky art and complicated friendships...this book is a gift to be thankful for."—BookRiot

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