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What: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Who: Harlequin Teen Australia

When: February 20th 2017

How: A copy of this novel was provided by Harlequin Teen Australia for review.

Fifteen-year-old Aki Hunter knows she’s bisexual, but up until now she’s only dated guys—and her best friend, Lori, is the only person she’s out to. When she and Lori set off on a four-week youth-group mission trip in a small Mexican town, it never crosses Aki’s mind that there might be anyone in the group she’d be interested in dating. But that all goes out the window when Aki meets Christa.

Six things to know about Our Own Private Universe:

1) Aki is a bisexual girl of colour.

Which is AWESOME. We need more intersectional diversity in YA, so it was great to see this rep on the page. However, Our Own Private Universe was written by a white woman, so it’s not ownvoices, and I also feel like it didn’t really capture the nuances of being a black girl in a church full of white people, or the microaggressions that POCs face in their lives.

So yay for the rep, but not so much yay for the execution.

(Although, I’m white, so I could be completely out of my lane in saying this. I suggest you look for reviews by POC – especially those who share Aki’s identity.)

2) There was a lot of biphobia and bi erasure.

Even Aki was pretty biphobic, and partook in a lot of bi erasure, which was really disappointing. I could not stand how many time’s Aki’s best friend said “you’re gay” or “you’re a lesbian”. Like, girl, messing up once is maybe okay (but not really) but when your best friend has to correct you every single time you two have a conversation about her identity? That’s complete bullshit.

And Aki’s best friend wasn’t the only one. Aki’s brother also repeatedly referenced Aki as gay, even though she had told him she was bi. Aki herself also did some bi erasing on her part, which I was side eyeing the shit out of – in reference to Christa there were a lot of offhand comments about her being gay. For a book with a bi protagonist I was not a huge fan of the way no one learnt that bisexuality is a valid identity and that using the label someone identifies with is something you should do.

3) There was exploration of using the bi label.

Aki has always thought of herself as a ‘hypothetical bisexual’ (which annoyed the crap out of me but moving on), and throughout the book there are internal monologues and conversations about her experience with the label. There was exploration of how being bi doesn’t mean that you like guys and girls in equal measure (the 50/50 thing), that labels can change, that sexuality is fluid. I appreciated these conversations because I’ve personally never seen them happen in YA before.

4) Aki was pushy when she didn’t need to be.

Aki isn’t sure how her parents will react to her being bi, but she was never consumed with fear so I think she had a pretty good idea that her parents weren’t going to react in the extreme negative and do something horrible like throw her out of the house. Christa, however, has parents that are queerphobic assholes and she knows that she can’t tell them that she’s pan or that she has a girlfriend. For some reason Aki took this really personally and then was all ‘Christa you should be honest because my Dad was great and my brother was great which means you should do it, too’ which is 100% NOT OKAY. Don’t try and force someone to come out to their parents under any circumstances, but especially when the person knows that their parents will not accept them.

5) On page girl on girl sexy times.

THIS IS SO RARE. LGBTQIA+ YA books hardly ever have on page sexy times, so the fact that Our Own Private Universe had several scenes was pretty groundbreaking. Although I have to say it was a little weird that Aki was so young. Fifteen is so young. I mean, I know fifteen year olds are having sex but it just felt a little weird to be reading about it.

A+ in on page education about women having sex with women, by the way.

6) Storyline … what storyline?

Not gonna lie, there was no storyline to Our Own Private Universe. And the only side-storyline that really tried to happen was Aki being passionate about helping foreign countries with their healthcare systems. But there was hardly any on page evidence of this so-called passion until the very end, so I honestly didn’t really buy it.

There was also a lot of pointless lying and teen drama in this book which I 100% could have gone without. E.g. Aki not wanting to tell anyone her favourite song, Aki not telling Christa that she doesn’t sing or play the guitar anymore, Aki’s biffle lying about relationships. I was just like u g h.

And let us not forget the random inclusion of a gay guy being bullied by other members of the church and no one doing anything about it. Yay for Aki being a caring friend. Good job. High five. All the gold stars for standing up for him.

~

All in all I wasn’t the hugest fan of Our Own Private Universe. While I appreciated some elements, there was not enough storyline or emotional connection for me to really love and enjoy it. I wouldn’t not recommend this book, however, because there are so few bi girl books out there, even less with on page identification and girl loving girl times, and this book also has a QPOC protagonist.

© 2017, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.

trigger warning: racism, homophobia, biphobia, bullying, use of ableist language, poverty, and death of a relative in combat  in this novel

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Posted on: February 24, 2017 • By: Chiara

8 Responses to Six Things to Know About Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

  1. I’ve been more and more reviews like this. I really wanted to read it because of the diversity, but I don’t want to hate it when I do. Think I might this book a miss. Thanks for the review.

  2. Wendy says:

    Great detailed review Chiara! I’d seen mixed feedback before now and am still not sure whether I’ll read or not, but you raised the issues with the book really well so I’ll know what to be aware of if I do. The explorations of using the bi label sound particularly compelling but ugh that’s frustrating re: the pointless lying & drama and the random scene with no-one doing anything about the bullying. 😓

  3. I’m so sorry you didn’t like this book! I’ve been debating if I want to read it or not, and I think I might still give it a go because it’s doing something that other YA hasn’t yet and I think that’s very important. But I do agree that 15 feels pretty young for Aki to be having sex and that’s not something I’d really want promoted. Despite that, I’m glad that this book might be able to help young girls figure themselves out.
    Great review :D

  4. Sadness that this was disappointing for you. 😫 I do think that’s terrible that one character was judging the other character for not coming out…like that’s not even fair at all of ever. And I feel strange every time I read about 15 year olds having intense love life’s too. I was like SUCH A CHILD when I was 15.😂😂 But ah well, yay at least for bi women representation and intersectional diversity!!

  5. i am currently reading this and i am finding it so dull at times and very difficult to pick up and get into because while i can really appreciate the diversity, like you said, it seems to be lacking in a plot. hopefully it gets better as i continue though and great and very unique formatting of your review!

  6. I’m sorry this one wasn’t for you, dear Chiara, but so glad that we’re getting at least a bit of traction with books about girls who love girls (even if the execution is not A+). I rather hate the trope of one queer partner nagging the other to come out to people in their life – that is just. So out of line on so many levels, & I wish it would stop both in books & IRL.

    Also, I need to add that this cover is kind of giving me heart palpitations??? I know, completely superficial, but they just look so happy & in love & UGH. CUE ME CRYING.

  7. A, I’m sorry you didn’t really love this one. I enjoyed it – I don’t really need a whole PLOT to enjoy a book though, so that’s definitely hit or miss for people. As someone who IS bi, I thought it was fairly interesting to hear how Aki thought about her sexuality. She’s definitely young, so some of her “ideas” or thoughts weren’t the best but I feel like in some regards, she did grow. I didn’t like how she treated Christa about coming out, but I feel like she redeemed herself more in the end, because she FINALLY realized that some people – esp. parents – are not safe to come out too.

    -Lauren

  8. I’ve heard a lot of mixed thoughts on this book, but I still find myself really wanting to pick up a copy. Since I’m bisexual, I find myself drawn to books with bisexual characters, and really good ones tend to be hard to find. Most of the books I’ve read that featured bisexual main characters seem to have a lot of the same problems that you pointed out with this book. Even still, it’s nice to see so many different diverse characters being written into books for teens, because it can be a difficult time in your life coming to terms with who you are as a person, and it’s always nice not to feel alone (I certainly wish that there were books with more diverse characters when I was in high school).

    I’m sorry to hear that this wasn’t as wonderful as you had hoped for. Have you read any of Robin Talley’s other books? I’ve read As I Descended and thought it was really good. Thanks so much for sharing your insightful review with us – it was great to read!

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