Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley
Published January 31, 2017 by Harlequin Teen
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Rating: 2 stars
From the blurb: 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.
My first issue was with the representation of a biracial black girl because this book is written by a white author. I'm white, so I'm not really in a position to comment, but I did wonder at the rep and would be keen to read reviews written by black Americans. Aki did talk about often being the only black girl, but this wasn't something explored in depth.
My second issue was with the LGBTQIAP rep. Aki is discovering who she is, at the start of the story she's sure she's bi, but as her summer progresses she becomes unsure, sometimes wondering if she's lesbian not bi. Her best friend refers to her as gay, so does her brother, and usually Aki doesn't bother to correct them. She makes assumptions about Christa, a girl she meets at the camp, and Aki isn't as understanding as she could be. Christa is extremely worried about how her parents would react if they found out she was bi, but Aki doesn't seem to respect this, even though Christa is distressed several times throughout the story.
A lot of this I could write off as simply the experience of being a teen. Just because you know you're bi, doesn't mean you instinctively know what to say and how to react to the things people say or do. Aki is only 15 years old and hasn't had a lot of life experience. I'm sure this is something that would change with time and education. And just because you're sure about what you are, doesn't mean other people are, and you can't force them. But on the other hand, it could be interpreted as bi erasure and teens might read this and think the things that are said in the book are fine or that they don't have a right to speak up when people say the wrong thing.
The exploration of sex between two girls was well done and I applaud the author and publisher for the level of honesty and detail. There are girls who'll read this and feel empowered, who will know what they feel and what they want are absolutely ok. The issue of safe sex was addressed too - Aki seeks out a college health centre and is given free gloves and dental dams. I did think the gloves were overkill, I've never read a scene where a boy and girl have to use gloves to touch each other, so why should girls have to use them? But perhaps this is something taught in US schools.
I found the story really slow and lacking in direction. Normally I read YA books in 1-3 days. 5-6 days is slow for me. This book took me 12 days! I found it forgettable and it was a real chore to get through it. The drama felt forced and over the top. There was a lot of secret keeping and arguments that became repetitive. There was bullying involving a gay teen that was never addressed. I kept wondering why the story was set in Mexico, because the group didn't seem to do much while there. Often the story felt like one long PSA rather than a narrative. Overall the story could have been tightened up and probably shortened to keep the pace at a reasonable speed.
Ableist language: dumb, idiot, insane.
Our Own Private Universe was a little disappointing, but definitely worth a read for the bi love story, especially for teens who find themselves in a similar situation to Aki. We need more diverse stories, and while this one had some minor issues, it could be just the book teens need to read.
Thank you to Harlequin Teen for the ARC via Netgalley.