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