Book Review: Our Own Private Universe

Posted February 22, 2017 by Lyn Kaye in book review, Lyn / 1 Comment

Book Review: Our Own Private UniverseOur Own Private Universe by Robin Talley
Published by Harlequin Teen on January 31st 2017
Genres: contemporary, young adult, glbtq
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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three-half-stars

Fifteen-year-old Aki Simon has a theory. And it's mostly about sex.

No, it isn't that kind of theory. Aki already knows she's bisexual—even if, until now, it's mostly been in the hypothetical sense. Aki has dated only guys so far, and her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows she likes girls, too.

Actually, Aki's theory is that she's got only one shot at living an interesting life—and that means she's got to stop sitting around and thinking so much. It's time for her to actually do something. Or at least try.

So when Aki and Lori set off on a church youth-group trip to a small Mexican town for the summer and Aki meets Christa—slightly older, far more experienced—it seems her theory is prime for the testing.

But it's not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you're in love? It's going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love.

Talley hit my radar with her amazing novel Lies We Tell Ourselves back in 2014. Since her debut novel, I’ve kept an eye out for her books, which seem to focus on diversity and pro-GLBTA characters and social inclusion plots.

In her 4th novel, Talley explores the life of a black teenage girl examining her own sexuality while testing the bounds of her own world, fitting into all of the spaces of her life. Talley pushes below the surface to dive further into other social issues, reflecting back to her first novel set up.

What I Enjoyed

Tackling and discussing stereotypes in the novel was brought forward throughout the novel. Talley peppered her book with stereotypes that are commonly represented in popular media, such as the black community against homosexuality, how bisexual people have to balance both sexes to be “considered” bi, and how Christians reject gay and lesbians from their community. Talley addresses and folds these allegations into the story line, adding meat onto the bones of the story, and answering these questions with actions instead of preaching.
The characters were clear and had their own developing point of views.  I loved that they both had their own faults and shortcomings. I was very fearful that both Aki and Christa was going to become the Manic Pixie Dreamgirls, but both were able to grow and be defined by their flaws, strengths and own personas. Christa was awesome and quirky, but she wasn’t some Alaska/John-Green-female-MC rip off, arriving in the plot to liberate Aki from her life and open her up to her new-found sexuality. Aki was attracted to her, but it took the effort and courage of both of them to understand the relationship and who they were as they grew closer. There was not one girl who was just “amazing” and “the best – both of them were in this together.

Aki and her background, a black girl fighting against the stereotype of a black gay girl, gave her main character her own nature and her own story, enough to carry a plot past “I’m just here for the sex.” Aki went through her own growing pains, outside of her own budding and confusing sexuality growth. She was strong headed to the point that she was downright stubborn and arrogant at times, but it was pleasant to have a confident girl at the wheel, learning how to use that and not let the world beat her down for her strong personality. It was refreshing to see a female YA character not apologize for stubbornness, and using it in the story to further the narrative.
There were other relationships in the book that Aki was navigating, such as  family issues with her brother, Drew,and maneuvering through a rough patch with her closest friend, Lori. Other relationships were not thrown to the side during the book, showing that more than one relationship is balanced at once. It is always wonderful when you fall into the romance plot, but there are other stories that are happening outside the bubble as well, which many other books ignore in favor for the romantic storyline.
Tackling social issues, such as health care, language barriers, and standing up to peers, and for friends, were also present in the book, which was welcomed in a novel that was centered around a romantic plot. I also love how Talley really dissects the meaning and identity of bisexuality. Aki struggles with her identity, such as, should she like boys and girls 50/50? Does she like one gender more than the other? Should she be worried that she liked kissing a girl more than kissing a boy? The book also tackles safe sex practices for female as well. I wholly applaud this, since the Prentice is hardly ever discussed or even touched upon in any other novel.

 

What I Didn’t Enjoy

The drama was so out of hand. There was too much happening, and there were points in the book where I felt that the drama was drowning out the rest of the story. For so much happening, it was overwhelming and it wore me out. This wasn’t a book I could read though due to so many shocking twists that kept popping up. The book could have toned down on all of the dramatics.
I wish the story would have focused a bit more on the culture of the area. They travel to Mexico, but at times, I didn’t really feel “there”. Due to how internal the story was focused, I felt that the audience missed out on the external experience of the surrounding setting.
I was a bit put out by the entire food dilemma. I’m not sure why it bothered me. Aki always ate toast and never tried any of the food that everyone cooked in the Mexico. When you travel to a foreign country, what to do you think you are going to eat? That just seemed to rub me the wrong way.

 

Overall

A very sweet story that added a bit of everything to give the reader a universe of topics, and a romance that wasn’t perfect, but seemed just right for a sweet and touching read.

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