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Our Own Private Universe

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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.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published January 31, 2017

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About the author

Robin Talley

12 books1,465 followers
I live in Washington, D.C., with my wife, our baby daughter, an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. Whenever the baby's sleeping, I'm probably busy writing young adult fiction about queer characters, reading books, and having in-depth conversations with friends and family about things like whether Jasmine's character motivation was sufficiently established in Aladdin.

My website is at http://www.robintalley.com, and I'm on Twitter and Tumblr.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 491 reviews
Profile Image for Emily (emilykatereads).
398 reviews294 followers
August 10, 2017
I will find all of the queer YA books, and I will read them all. (22/06/16)

Review (23/02/17):
I really want to give this book more than 3 stars but I just can't. There were a bunch of really awesome aspects about this book that made it great, but the characters were so damn annoying that it made the awesome aspects harder to enjoy. I get that the main character is 15, but come on, there doesn't need to be that much drama. Everyone was just lying to each other and causing so much petty drama.

However, overall, this book does a lot of good. It covers a lot of important topics:
- actual bisexual representation
- safe sex (I don't think I've yet to read a book with a sexual encounter between two girls that even discusses safe sex)
- social activism (important, current issues such as marriage equality, police brutality, global health care, gun control, etc.)
- a diverse cast (main characters plus many side characters are people of colour)

I really really enjoyed what this book tried to do, and I can see that this main character will be super relatable to young bisexual girls figuring out their own sexuality, but I found all the characters too annoying to overall love this book. I love what this book discusses, but I didn't love the book. Maybe if it wasn't in a first person narrative I could've enjoyed it more without having to read through as much annoying internal monologue (but Aki's internal thoughts are important).

The ending did redeem itself, but it wasn't enough to bump this book up from 3 stars because it took a lot of unnecessary drama to get to that point. Honestly.. Anyway, this book is important. I'd be really hesitant to recommend it, but if you don't mind the drama, go for it. The story has a lot of great things to offer.

Added thought (15/03/17):
I keep seeing this book referred to as #ownvoices, and I think it's great that a bisexual author is writing about a bisexual character, but I'd argue that it's #ownvoices because the mc is black the author is white. It's great to include diversity in a book but you can definitely tell a white woman wrote it. It's hard to believe that race was just such non-issue, and that the mc had no personal response to topics such as police brutality. She also never questions the fact that race could be intersecting with sexuality when Aki is getting homophobic comments made to her, meanwhile the white girl receives none.
Profile Image for Emma Giordano.
317 reviews116k followers
February 20, 2017
Thank you to Harlequin Teen for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I absolutely adored this book! I honestly don't even know where to start. This was such a lovely, heart-warming, emotional read. I would highly highly recommend it! I was super excited to read a new own-voices LGBTQIAP+ novel, and I was not disappointed. I'll have a more in-depth spoiler-free review on my channel soon!

As this is an LGBTQIAP+ novel featuring a relationship between two bisexual girls , I cannot speak to the representation. From what I have read from the LGBT+ community about representation in literature, there are certain points I found to be in line with healthy and positive points I know many people push for. This is the story of a teenage girl questioning her sexuality, and while still fearing the reaction of those she is close to, she ultimately goes through a very positive experience. There are two overwhelmingly touching coming-out scenes that elicit overall positive outcomes for those two individuals. As this takes place in a Christian community, on the topic of gay marriage, an LGBT+ individual makes a note that "it is important not equate the movement for marriage rights with the movement for equality overall." For the most part, the majority of the youth-group/congregation are all very accepting of different sexual orientations and genders. Again, my view holds less weight than those who can better relate to Aki, but it felt like this book supported a lot of my ever-growing knowledge of LGBTQIAP+ representation in books.

Although it's not my place to determine how certain tropes and stereotypes regarding sexuality affect readers, I do feel as a reviewer, it's my job to provide you guys with the most information possible to help you better understand a book before reading. I went into this book knowing there was some talk of it feeding into the stereotype that "bisexual individuals are cheaters" which is obviously a very harmful idea to promote and I had every intention of addressing this in my review, but as this topic approached that just . . . wasn't true? (In my interpretation, at least.)

I've seen reviews suggesting this trope is relevant as a bisexual person kisses another bisexual person who has a boyfriend. According to the individual in a relationship, she states on page 62,
"The thing about Steven and me is that we're taking a break for the summer". Also on page 62, "So, since I was coming down here, we decided we'd take the summer off from our relationship. So we could see other people for a little while. If we wanted to, I mean. As readers, I think we need to take our characters's words as truth unless we have a reason to question otherwise (which in this story, nothing suggests Christa was lying about being on a break from her boyfriend ) so I, as a reader, would not consider that cheating. If we would like to discuss the trope that "bisexual individuals are not monogamous" THAT is a different conversation. But, this is actually explicitly addressed in the story. Like, so explicit, there's no way to misinterpret the message, here. On page 171 it states, "One common myth is that bisexual people must be in simultaneous relationships with both men and women to be sexually satisfied. Another is that bisexuals are promiscuous. In fact, many bisexual people may be perfectly happy in monogamous relationships." So this trope is outright challenged and debunked within the pages of this story. I am in no way trying to determine if this book plays into those stereotypes. If you're bisexual and this is still representation you don't agree with, your feelings are totally valid! But, I haven't seen anyone who mentioned these tropes discuss how they are tackled in the story, so I feel you all deserve to know.

Another important note about this book, it discusses SAFE SEX. And not even just safe sex, but safe sex for two women! There are scenes involving the use of gloves and dental dams and they are approached in a mature, educational way. This is a theme that is imperative to include when writing about adolescents and I was so so pleased. Also, the main character actually visits a website about safe sex and their information was inclusive to trans and non-binary folk, which I was really happy to see.

Regarding church culture in this book, I felt it was fairly true to my own experiences. I spent a large chunk of my first few high school years in my own youth group, and the interactions of these teens gave me quite a bit of nostalgia. I've seen people say the drama in this story is "too much" or "too unrealistic" and to an extent, I absolutely agree. The thought of teenagers getting away with drinking on a missions trip was pretty unreasonable to me. Otherwise, the drama was exactly what my youth group was like at 16, so I didn't find significant problems with it. I'm actually really pleased to have a YA novel that deals with Christianity in such an open-minded, tolerant light.

I think the only other negative thing I disliked about this book was there was a lot of lying. Aki lies. Her brother, Drew, lies. Her best friend, Lori, lies. The love interest, Christa, lies. Random church kids lie. Even Aki's father, who is a pastor, lies. There is a lot of lying, more than I would say most people do, but it is addressed and everyone suffers the consequences of their lies, or at least owns up to it by telling the truth and apologizing, so I'm satisfied.

Overall, I loved this book. I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a new LGBT+ own voices read or a book about self-discovery. Tears welled up in my eyes on many occasions and I felt it was a very touching read.
Profile Image for April (Aprilius Maximus).
1,088 reviews6,591 followers
February 6, 2017
This books definitely has a lot of pros, but unfortunately there were an equal amount of cons for me. The diversity in Our Own Private Universe was ON POINT. The main character is a person of colour and is bisexual, there are other bisexuals in the book (and one that thinks she might be pansexual), an out-and-proud lesbian, and the book takes place in Mexico so there are minor latinx characters as well. I love the fact that it's not only diverse, but the characters in the book explore important topics that are relevant in the world today such as health care in developing countries and gun control. Safe sex is also explored and researched by the main character in this book, making this an excellent 'role model' book for teens exploring their sexuality. I also loved how the entire book took place during a religious mission trip, but religion was never shoved in your face. I LOVED that.

Moving on to the cons. There was a TON of petty YA drama in this book that really annoyed me. I am honestly just over petty drama in YA in general and it sucked that a book with such promise stooped to that level. The three main characters just kept lying about everything and bitching and fighting and it was so frustrating and not at all what I wanted out of this reading experience. I mean, I get that that's what a lot of teenagers are like, but it seemed like such a downer on what I wanted to be an awesomely positive book.

So I'm kind of on the fence about this one. Loved the diversity and the fact that it was #ownvoices, but the petty YA drama let it down for me.
Profile Image for Alyssa Krasnansky.
Author 2 books10 followers
March 3, 2017
Our Own Private Universe is the story of Aki, a bi black teenager on a mission trip to Mexico with her church. She makes a deal with her friend Lori to try to have a summer fling while they are in Mexico, which is how she gets involved with Christa, a girl from another church. They hit things off, but anxieties about coming out, rumors, and white lies get in the way of their relationship. Our Own Private Universe is at its best in the second half of the story; the gang puts together a debate on several issues that will be voted on by the church at a later conference, and Talley does justice to the anxiety of public speaking and of being outed without consent in this section in particular.
However, there is a lot to say about where Our Own Private Universe went wrong as a piece of YA fiction. This review will focus particularly on lacking character development, racism, condescending attempts to be educational, and basic failure to represent bi teens in a compelling romantic relationship.

First, the primary goal of YA is to be engaging to young people. To meet that goal, typically authors choose to represent issues that are unique to young people—questions of identity, self-discovery, anxiety over school, friendships, the future, and so on. Talley’s main character Aki is questioning her bi identity, discovering what she wants in a relationship, discovering new interests, and dealing with her rocky friendship with Lori and her complicated relationship with music. In short, she checks all the boxes. Aki seems like the perfect “relatable” teenager. Only, that’s all she is. Aki reads as a formula for a YA novel, not a real person. She’s all “teen issues” with no substance. I can list everything there is to know about Aki in 50 words or less. While reading, I was constantly asking questions about her that were never answered. What does she do for fun now that she doesn’t do music anymore? Is Lori her only friend? Why is Lori her only friend? What is her relationship to her religion as a queer Christian teenager?

This last question was especially important in a novel about a high school mission trip, yet Aki seems to lack what I consider the fundamental queer Christian experience. Questions like “Does God really say this is wrong?” and “Am I going to hell?” and “How will my community react?” are never asked. The choice on Talley’s part to ignore the self-doubt, fear, and even self-hatred that are part of the queer Christian experience is frankly baffling. Talley could have told us that Aki is far enough along in her journey of self-acceptance that those questions are already asked and answered for her, but instead she makes the bizarre choice to make Aki seemingly unaware of Western Christianity’s relationship to homophobia. She marvels that anyone could oppose same sex marriage. If she had gone to an explicitly left-leaning church—Unitarian or the like—this would have made more sense, especially since Aki is sheltered, but this is clearly not true of Holy Life, as Aki doesn’t even know where her parents stand on same sex marriage. Talley’s writing lost a lot of credibility for me because of this oversight. She neglected to go below the surface in exploring what it means to be a queer Christian, and the novel suffers for it.

Surface level characterization is especially obvious when it comes to how Talley writes about Aki’s race. Talley never fully develops Aki as black. Sure, Aki notices that there is only one other black person (besides her family) on the mission trip, and she is uncomfortable when the young Juana starts styling her hair. Yet I got the feeling throughout that her character was whitewashed. She seems to have the outlook on life of the white author. For example, we don’t know how Aki feels about her best friend being white, or if she has black friends at home, or if she feels isolated in her tiny high school or not. We don’t see her talk to her dad or brother about how Mexico may or may not be different from Maryland re: racism—she doesn’t seem to worry at all about being black in a different country where she doesn’t know how she’ll be received. She never considers that Nick’s rude comments about her (but not her white girlfriend) may be misogynoir—it never crosses her mind, even when the whole camp is spreading rumors. When police brutality is brought up in conversation, Aki has no internal reaction, no dread of the discussion and what might be said. None of these points on their own are strictly necessary to make Aki “really” black, but the near total absence of black identity from how Aki defines herself and understands the world is suspicious.
Purging Aki of any uncomfortable self-awareness of race and racism for the benefit of Talley’s white readership is racist in itself, and it’s not the only racism in the story. Talley uses the minor character Sofía as a mouthpiece for the line “I wouldn’t pet any dogs in Mexico. You never know who’s got rabies,” making sure to mention in the same sentence that Sofía is “Hispanic” (so it’s okay). And the racism of the white characters is portrayed as neutral or even good. Aki begins to correct a girl who claims that black people are more homophobic than white people, but Christa interrupts her and changes the subject—which is never revisited as problematic. Aki doesn’t even seem to mind. I have to wonder if Talley even put up a fight against the whitewashed front cover, which features two white-passing girls, one with loose 3b hair (Aki’s hair is supposed to be in braids). The picture is so heavily washed out with bright yellow and purple filters that you wouldn’t know Aki is black unless you read the book.

Also problematic is the mission trip to Mexico itself, and how the white savior complex is unchallenged in the novel. While Aki isn’t white, the author is, and Talley doesn’t challenge the concept of the mission trip at all. Aki’s concern for the lacking medical care in Mudanza leads her to champion new church policy to send aid to the Global South specifically to improve health care. Talley presents this as the right call without examining the colonial history of meddling “charitably” in the Global South. For a book that takes it upon itself to be an educational resource for its readers, Our Own Private Universe fails to explore the complexity of Western “charitable” involvement in post-colonial nations and instead sanctions the mission trip formula uncritically, sending a dangerous message to the next generation.

Which brings me to the next pervasive issue in the novel: how Talley talks down to her audience. This is a common problem in YA, but it’s always disappointing to see. Every ten pages or so I would notice that Aki is denied common knowledge that any teenager would have. She has never seen a petition in real life before. She is clueless about the existence of poverty, asking “Did everyone drive all those hours to Tijuana to go to a decent doctor?” She is apparently clueless about her own body, too, describing herself as “warm between my legs” rather than acknowledging her sex organs in her internal dialogue. This buys into the double standard between YA with male versus female protagonists. Unlike teen boys, girls are written as sexually innocent and naïve, when girls in real life rarely are (and they learn from YA literature like this to see themselves as less feminine and less valuable for having that self-knowledge). It’s not a trend I like to see perpetuated.

Talley underestimates her protagonist, which is a way of talking down to teens in general, but she talks down to the reader as well. Much of the book is overtly educational. The section on safe sex, for example, disrupts the story to give the audience a lesson on dental dams. And to be perfectly honest, it just isn’t realistic that a fifteen year old having sex for the first time would look into safe sex between two people with vaginas (oops, I mean “warm legs”) without already having been educated on the necessity of protection outside of penis-in-vagina sex. The way Aki learns about safe sex by seeking out that information unprompted, and her commitment to going way out of her way, first to the internet café in town to do research, and then a campus health center to get dental dams—without really acknowledging why safe sex is necessary—just wasn’t believable. And it wasn’t an effective teaching tool either because teenagers know when they’re being taught a lesson, and, like most people, don’t like it. I understand that Talley doesn’t want to sanction unsafe sex for her readers, but readers tend to disengage from didactic, preachy stories, which is no way to convince teenagers to be safe. Talley has several such “lessons” throughout on different topics from global health care to the language of queer identity, and they all say the same thing to the audience: “Teenagers are ignorant.” And no one likes being underestimated.

As bi representation, this novel really doesn’t cut it either. It’s a lot better than some of the so-called representation I’ve seen before, but it’s clear that Talley values bisexuality as an offshoot of “WLW” not as a valid sexuality in and of itself. Aki repeatedly marvels at how kissing Christa is so much better than kissing boys. She wonders if she isn’t really a lesbian after all. Though she eventually settles on seeing herself as bi with a preference for girls, she still questions, “Will I always be this way? Or will I decide someday, you know, that I’m actually a regular lesbian or whatever?” The implication here is that bi girls will always be questioning, that there is no such thing as security in your sexuality for bi/pan people—which is classic biphobia. Lesbians are never berated from within queer communities to acknowledge that their sexuality is fluid, even though everyone has the potential to learn more about their sexuality and change their labels. The fact that bi girls aren’t allowed to have a narrative without being questioning says a lot about how bi people are misunderstood and misrepresented by the rest of the queer community.

Talley also has a surprising lack of compassion for Christa’s situation with her extremely conservative parents. Aki argues with her that she shouldn’t be afraid of being outed, which is a ridiculous point of view for the daughter of a minister to have (and part of Aki’s character development problem), and while she eventually realizes that some queer kids aren’t as lucky as she is, she still argues that Christa should work towards coming out to her parents by taking baby steps—first telling them that she secretly wants to go to culinary school, then revealing another secret, and so on. This completely baffles me coming from a queer author. It is simple fact that it is not always safe to come out to your parents—sometimes not ever. Some queer people never come out because it would put them in danger, which Christa seems to think is the case for her. Yet Talley’s novel, like many queer YA novels, treats coming out as if it’s an obligation—as if the virtue of honesty is more important than queer teen lives. One of the major themes of the novel is honesty, which, sure, is a good virtue to have—but it was maddening to see Drew telling his and Aki’s dad that he flunked a semester of college equated with Aki coming out as bi. Bizarrely, Talley doesn’t seem to understand that queer people are marginalized. There is real danger to being out. It’s not comparable to admitting that you didn’t do your homework—and the comparison is frankly insulting.

And last but not least…for a romance story, Aki and Christa completely lack chemistry. This goes back to my point about how Aki lacks development. She isn’t given the development of a real person, only a summary of one, and her and Christa’s relationship is as shallow as her character. Their attraction is physical, founded on nothing. Every so often they make out or have sex, and Aki tells the reader how attracted to Christa she is, but without any chemistry between them, we can’t understand the attraction or really feel anything about it. It’s hard to diagnose exactly what causes a lack of chemistry, but you know it when you see it. Aki and Christa are paired up by the hand of God because there is simply not enough depth to their characters to pair them up by any other means.

Were there good things about this novel? Yes. Would I recommend it to anyone, especially a young bi person? Absolutely not. As an educational tool, it does as much harm as good, and bluntly put, it doesn’t have much in the way of story or character to make up for the many failures. In short, it’s mediocre except for when it’s outright bad.
Profile Image for Kassidy.
338 reviews11.1k followers
February 26, 2017
This book touches on so many poignant and relevant topics. It gives adequate thought and conversation to each topic without bogging down the plot or taking away from other elements.
I loved Aki and her journey through this story, I came to truly care for her and surprised myself when tears sprang to my eyes toward the end. I especially adored her relationship with her father and brother, I love when YA books expand on family dynamics.
The only thing I could have done with less of was the teenage gossip/drama. I know it's realistic because Aki is 15, but I felt like it took away from the gravity of the story and caused me to lose interest at points.
Overall, a very emotional and important book!
Thank you to Harlequin Teen for providing me with an advanced copy to read and review.
Profile Image for Stacee.
2,670 reviews701 followers
December 22, 2016
I wanted to love this book. I love the cover and I was excited to read a love story between girls. Sadly I was a bit disappointed and since I'm not sure how to break it down, I'll do bullet points.

What I loved:

•A girl/girl romance. Aki and Christa have some very sweet moments together.

• Sex was talked about openly between them and safe sex was researched and in the moment.

•Sexuality and the characters struggling to figure out what they identified with: being bi or straight or gay or pan. There was even talk of romantic/sexual attraction.

•It showed the struggle kids have with coming out to their parents.

•Aki's dad is one of the best. He says some amazing and supportive things.

What I hated:

•There's an insane amount of drama. Yes, teenage girls and hormones, but JFC this was A LOT OF DRAMA.

•The lying. Aki lies about stupid things. Like she doesn't tell people her favorite song. Oh, in her head, she constantly talks about having one, but won't tell people because she thinks it's stupid. By the end, it seemed like everyone was lying about something, but her stupid lies were stupid.

•The bullying. There's one kid who is constantly getting picked on. It doesn't ever explain why and there wasn't a resolution and that irritated me.

Overall, even though I thought about DNFing, I kept reading for some reason. I'm sure a lot of people will love this and I definitely think the sexuality/coming out aspect is important for readers.

**Huge thanks to Harlequin Teen and Edelweiss for providing the arc free of charge**
Profile Image for Paige (Illegal in 3 Countries).
1,202 reviews391 followers
February 11, 2021
See more of my reviews on The YA Kitten! My copy was an ARC that unexpectedly showed up in the mail.
*Aki and her brother are biracial, as is Aunt Miranda; lots of Mexican characters in the background
*three bisexual characters, an out-and-proud lesbian, use of the more inclusive LGBTQIA acronym, and the book is basically Forever... for queer girls
*really engages with the difficulties of being a queer girl and mentions racial attitudes toward queerness at one point

At some point in your life, I hope you’ve gotten unexpected mail that was so wonderful it made you scream. I’ve had two such moments: when a letter arrived telling me I’d been offered a full-ride scholarship to a college I applied to (I recently graduated from the same college) and when Our Own Private Universe appeared on my doorstep. Talley’s previous novels with Harlequin Teen have seen a lot of criticism lately and they raise valid points. I loved Lies We Tell Ourselves and have no problem admitting that! With Our Own Private Universe, Talley is moving in the right direction and has written a book I expect parents will pass onto their children the way they do Forever… by Judy Blume.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that modern teens are very political. Another truth: religious people are very political and regularly have high turnout for elections, which is why evangelicals have such immense voting power. Combine the two groups and you get Aki, Christa, and the other teens of the Holy Life mission trip to the wee little village of Mundanza in Mexico. They’re almost terrifying in their zeal for social justice and reform! Talley really gets what modern teens care about and shows them a great deal of respect. It’s honestly pretty inspiring.

Aki grows not just as a human being but as an activist, going from a closeted bi girl to a semi-open girl who has a major part in organizing a massive debate to help determine how their church’s delegate (aka her dad the minister) will vote on a variety of planks at an upcoming religious conference that determines the entire organization’s stances. She experiences both her first relationship and her first relationship with a girl, she learns to get over the fact she’s gonna have to ask someone for dental dams, and she learns more about her brother and father amidst all this. Though the romance is at the center of the book, the facets of Aki’s life aren’t neglected.

Talley doesn’t do any fade-to-black stuff for the sex Christa and Aki have, nor does she overuse euphemisms. All talk of sex between two girls and how to have it safely is very straightforward and the scenes of Christa and Aki together are never fetishistic. It’s two girls experiencing sex for the first time and learning how to express their feelings for one another through a physical act.

The novel doesn’t ignore how different Aki and Christa’s realities are either. Aki eventually comes out to her brother and father to complete acceptance; Christa can’t come out or be outed to her ultra-religious parents without fear of being kicked out. Though Aki is initially unhappy about this and thinks Christa cowardly, she comes to understand every QUILTBAG kid has their own unique circumstances. Some can be out and shove it in everyone’s faces (me), some can only be out to a select group of people, and some have to stay closeted until they are in a better situation. It even quickly acknowledges that queerness and racial-ethnic groups intersect in different ways!

Sadly, the Holy Life mission trip that brings Christa and Aki together in the first place fades into the background. They build a church for the village of Mudanza, they paint some buildings, and Aki and Lori in particular make jewelry with the little girls. Criticism of short-term mission trips like the one in Our Own Private Universe typically centers on the lack of a concrete impact and that’s exactly the hole Aki’s Holy Life trip falls into. Though Aki leaves Mundanza a changed person, the Holy Life group didn’t really do anything lasting for Mundanza. Her experience is at the crux of the story, not what she does.

In a similar vein, the focus is one hundred percent on Christa and Aki exploring their sexuality together. Thanks to this, the entire novel moves slowly and it contributes to the erasure of the missionary work they’re supposedly doing in Mundanza. The girls might as well be at a Holy Life-organized religious summer camp for teens, not on an international mission trip. Such a camp would be a much better choice of setting; with very few tweaks, Aki’s growth as a human being would unfold in the same way. Then it might not feel like Mexico and its people are being used as a backdrop.

I read a brilliant article criticizing modern short-term mission trips, but I can’t find it after all these years. It came complete with a brilliant passage about an impoverished orphan girl taking the bracelet one teen missionary had given her and throwing it away with all the others she’d gotten from teen missionaries!

When puberty hit me like a bus covered in angry porcupines, my mom gave me her old copy of Forever… by Judy Blume, that classic heterosexual tale of two teens exploring love and sex together after they start dating. I never actually read it because it didn’t apply to me and I’m not entirely sure where that book is now. Anyway, Our Own Private Universe will one day be the book parents give their little queer girls so they can see themselves in fiction and learn how to have safe sex.
Profile Image for Silvia .
635 reviews1,371 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
January 26, 2017
DNF @ 7% (no rating because I didn't read enough of it and I don't want to be unfair)

I am slightly pissed off. I wanted to read something sweet and lighthearted but I guess I'll never know if this book fits those expectations because I couldn't get over how childish the interactions were (I know the MC is 15 but......), plus the instalove at 5% (five! percent!) and the obviously blown-up drama-for-the-sake-of-the-drama made it impossible for me to continue reading this book. I even tried putting it on hold for a few days but when I tried to get back into it I just couldn't do it.
Profile Image for Anastasia.
134 reviews68 followers
July 13, 2017
5/5 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.
"Because, well. I had this theory.
Granted, all I ever had were theories. That was the whole problem. My life, all fifteen years of it, had been all about the hypothetical and never about the actual."
Our Own Private Universe is definitely one of my favorite LGBTQ+ book of not only this year but maybe even overall..? I can't believe I'm even saying that because I've read so many wonderful LGBTQ+ books such as More Happy Than Not and Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And believe me when I tell you that this book definitely deserves a spot on the shelf along with them. This is a beautifully written story of a girl that is just trying to learn more about herself, and along the way, more about the world.
"Being bi, just like the rest of my life, had always been mostly hypothetical."
Aki Simon is a very strong and complex main character. Right from the very start I knew that I was going to fall for this book just because of the way Aki thought. She is caring but also calculates and plans her moves, such as her theories. She's worried that the hypotheticals in her life are just that hypothetical and not real life. So she takes her life into her own hands and thrusts herself into new, and maybe uncomfortable, situations to test herself. I know that everyone always says "I really connected to this character" or "they were just like me". But I am not joking when I literally burst into tears while reading this book (They weren't sad tears because this book isn't really filled with many sad parts. They were tears of "this person gets me".). A friend persuaded me to push Our Own Private Universe to the top of my TBR because in her words "this character is YOU". And oh my goodness it was like having my mind cracked open and the findings were written on the page. I've never been this connected to a book or character but the way Aki thinks and the way Robin Talley translates it on the page? It's nothing less than magical. Maybe this is why this book was so moving for me but this is definitely a part of why I will always hold this book very close to me.
“That was when I forgot how to breathe altogether.”"
Aki and Christa’s relationship is very complex in this book. Neither one is publicly out. Christa has a boyfriend back home and her family would disown her if they knew. Aki doesn't know how her father, the minister in charge of the mission group in Mexico, would react. Christa and her boyfriend made a deal to see other people during the summer, so Aki decides that this relationship will just be a summer fling. They have to sneak around Mexico, kissing in alleyways, and holding hands underneath tables. Everything is going perfectly until word starts getting out and their hiding place isn’t so secret anymore. They’re relationship is so pure. It is the definition of puppy love . Both of them can’t help but smile when the other enters the room. It was so much fun to follow along with them as they not only learn more about each other but discover things about themselves.
"I'd wondered what it would be like to have a real boyfriend. Maybe a girlfriend, too. Someday."
This book was very focused on Aki discovering who she is, her sexuality most of all. But it was like no regular romance out there. It was like no regular Young Adult Romance out there. Robin Talley wrote this story so even when talking about serious and uncomfortable topics you feel safe and comfortable learning about it along with Aki. If you aren't into semi-graphic intimate scenes this book may not be the best for you at the moment. Talley really delves into the topic of what it means to love someone and how you can healthily show that love, which she demonstrated through safe sex. That's right ladies and gentlemen safe sex for a homosexual relationship. I was insanely happy to see this. Not only do YA books shy away from talking about condoms they even shy away from using anything but very vague descriptions to give you a hint that a couple had sex. But no no no you won't find this here, Talley had Aki research and find out about homosexual safe sex, such as using dental dams, and let's be honest many readers were probably learning this along with Aki. It was very refreshing to read a realistic young girl learning about sex and stumbling through it just like many others.
"The who mattered a lot more than the what."
This story not only deals with sexuality and romance it also incorporates how faith and beliefs can change the way you view the world. Both Aki and Christa are both Christian and they even meet on a mission trip down to Mexico to help build a church there. Many people have this preconceived notion that every single Christian person has to be against LGBTQ+ but this book took that notion, tore it to shreds and lit it on fire. This book showed both the bad and the good of coming out. Aki mostly showing the good side of things and Christa mostly showing the bad. Christa does not want their relationship to be public in fear that her parents will find out. As described by one of her close friends, her parents were the type to consider disowning her because of her sexuality. While on the other hand Aki slowly came out to her close friends and brother and was not completely understood but was wholeheartedly accepted and loved by them all. Our Own Private Universe showed how no one can ever tell you when it's your time to come out, it's whenever you feel comfortable and safe to do so. Because this is a big decision to make, it's one that can alter your life. But even if you have not come out that does not change who you are, you are still valid and strong and beautiful.
"If changed people's minds. I'd taken something that was so obvious to me it didn't even need to be explained and, somehow, I'd explained it."
Another topic that was dealt with was social and economical issues that are present in the world today. I was super excited when I saw these begin to surface throughout the book through petitions, and in the end a debate, because these are topics that may not be addressed in your average light hearted contemporary read. These topics were to be discussed with the Church to see how they, as a whole, would stand for or agents certain topics. This being said the topics were a huge discussion point among our main character, who's father is a preacher at their Church. Being able to hear both sides of certain issues during the debate was interesting but it was even more interesting to see how discussing these topics helped Aki develop as a character. Some issues that were main focal points other than the obvious Same-Sex Marriage was Foreign Aid to Countries in Need. We see this topic in a real world setting when Aki stumbles upon the only clinic in the town they are staying at, and realizing that there was only one doctor on staff for a portion of Mexico that housed hundreds of people. As you can tell this book was much more than just about the LGBTQ+ community.
“Frankly, it's self-evident. As people of faith, it's our duty to love everyone, the way God loves everyone. There's no reason why any one group is less deserving of love - either the love of a church community, to the love of a family - than any other.”
At first I didn't know how I felt about the writing style, but after a couple chapters it felt as natural as breathing. The first person POV gave you the feel of being inside Aki's head. All of her worries were your worries, all of her fears were your fears, the love she had you felt in your core. Even with different troubles you could relate to her because of how fluid the writing was. There weren't any major pauses or lulls in the story which made it an easy read.
“Girls like me smiled politely and always did the right thing. Girls like me definitely didn't sneak away at night to do things that would crush their fathers. And if they did, girls like me knew how to keep it to themselves.”
I believe that this LGBTQ+ representation was very genuine and realistic. However, everyone's story can be different so I understand how some may think that Aki's thinking is completely wrong, or they didn't connect to her at all. In my opinion I believe this story to be beautifully written story with complex and realistic characters and plot. If I am not mistaken I also believe this is an own voice novel, I am not completely sure if the author identifies as bisexual or not but I do know that she has a wife, which makes the story that much more authentic and real.
"'It was so obvious! I didn't say anything new.'
Dad chuckled. 'It's obvious to you, because that's how you see the world, but it's not obvious to everyone else until you persuade them to look at it that way, too.'"
I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book start to finish but one of my favorite parts of the book was actually the end, when everything started fitting together. This story is more character than plot driven, but nearing the end of the story all of the loose ends are tied up. Even if conflicts weren't completely resolved we still had a sense of a good and satisfying ending. There was also a debate scene and it was just so well written. I absolutely love debates and anything that deals with political or social issues so I was super excited about this scene.
“It could be our own private universe.”
All in all I truly believe that this story will stay with me for a very long time. It's a story that can resonate with everyone because everyone has experienced what Aki’s going through in some kind of way. We have experienced first love, questioning who we are, fear that people will not understand or accept us, passion for causes that resonate in us, loss of someone important in your life, and new friendships. If you are thinking of trying out an LGBTQ+ book for the first time or the millionth time, I would highly recommend you read this one as soon as possible.
Profile Image for Christina Marie.
411 reviews372 followers
February 6, 2017
This book was full of issues and I'm still trying to figure out how to properly express my concerns with this work, while respecting the author's right to tell a story in her own way. I will say that a few instances in this book hurt my feelings and angered me a bit. But I'm trying to process a bit more. I WILL be filming a video on this book later.
Profile Image for Artemis Crescent.
856 reviews
August 4, 2021
2021 EDIT: 'Our Own Private Universe' is a good, nice LBGTQ YA book, although I'm not as interested or as invested on the second read. Maybe it's too long and meandering? Maybe this time I had less tolerance for all the characters being liars and deceivers? But maybe that's to teach readers that lying causes far more unnecessary pain and suffering than just telling the truth in the first place ever could? Maybe it's all a little contrived? And shallow? That I didn't like the characters, but notably certain adults, being idiots to each other, for really no good reason? Maybe I didn't want to read about a fifteen-year-old having sex, even if it's with someone her own age? (Seriously, I had to keep reminding myself how young Aki actually is!)

But regardless, the rep is great. It acknowledges all kinds of sexualities (I don't recall asexuality being mentioned, however), and romantics. It's a coming-of-age recommendation from me.

Final Score: 3.5/5

Original Review:

One of the best-written contemporary LBGTQ YA books I've read. It's funny, warm, current in the issues it talks about, and, for a book full of liars, it's refreshingly honest.

'Our Own Private Universe' follows the story of Aki Simon, an American preacher's kid who, whilst volunteering in a church charity group in Mexico, has a summer fling with Christa Lawrence, as part of her many theories she wants to finally try out. This theory has to do with her bisexuality, and she puts this identity, her very sense of self, to the test. No hypothesising. Her rocky relationship with Christa, who hides her true self due to a conservative Christian upbringing, very soon grows into real love, temporary or not. Aki's life-long friendship with the more bold and daring (so she thinks) Lori is also tested, and the development of Aki's finding her purpose, and how she affects the lives of others in the process, is set in motion.

It's more complicated than what I've described, but it's a start. 'Our Own Private Universe' gets better with each chapter, so addictive and easy to digest it can be read in one day - you need to fully experience and appreciate this sweet meal. I never would have thought that from reading the first line alone:

'The stars above me danced in the cool, black Mexico sky. So I started dancing, too.'

Yeah, very YA-lite and borderline pretentious. But I'm glad I kept at it. There is more to the book than looking up at the depths of the sky and stars. It is about looking to the depths within ourselves. (Does that sound equally as cheesy? Did I intend it to? Who knows).

With its unique summer setting in the poorer areas of Mexico - with a weekend in Texas - described authentically, transporting me there, and its brilliantly-wide and diverse cast of memorable characters, 'Our Own Private Universe' is a smash hit. Robin Talley is an exceptionally talented writer.

It introduces topics that are vital for everyone to understand the world at large - they are much, much larger than ourselves. And it talks about and discusses the experiences of different sexual identities (that also include safe sex options) - straight, male and white is definitely not the default here (Aki and her awesome family are black). The intimacy and/or sex scenes between two teenage girls are written in not too much detail - nothing too graphic or coarse - but there's enough to let us know the fully-bloomed passion (there's a euphemism in there somewhere).

'Our Own Private Universe' can be frustrating with its realism. Aki, as cool and likeable as she is, is selfish, shallow, hypocritical, and she lies to Christa about her interests throughout the majority of the novel. Then you find out that practically everybody in the novel is a liar for no good reason, even the adults. Aki doesn't even seem to care about being a Christian - she follows her dad as an obligation, and there's nothing really about her revaluating her religious upbringing and questioning what she knows, bizarrely. Her ignorance of what she quickly deems as unimportant if they don't affect her personally is maddening.

But as much of a pain Aki can be sometimes, she is only fifteen - who wasn't a giant mess of contradictions at that age? She's learning that not everything is about her, that it is not only her problems and the issues she cares about that matter. Every issue deserves equal consideration in this world. At first Aki thinks she can't handle so many debates and feelings at once, but she underestimates herself, like all of us who are confused and have low self-confidence. Age has nothing to do with it. She stops badgering Christa to come out to her parents (which is Christa's choice, and can be potentially dangerous), and understands that every family circumstance is different, too.

The message of how religion can and should be about loving everyone, and that everyone deserves help from others no matter who they are and where they come from, is hopeful. Not many people caring if Aki is gay or bi is an example of this, whether it is realistic or not.

'Our Own Private Universe' is about the importance of truth, peace and love. Lies hurt, and so does hate; they don't help anyone. We can all build a private world for ourselves, and maybe not be afraid to let people in, as long as there's trust on both ends.

Final Score: 4/5
Profile Image for Chiara.
868 reviews220 followers
September 19, 2017
A copy of this novel was provided by Harlequin Teen Australia for review.

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
Profile Image for mjraves.
131 reviews81 followers
March 27, 2020
As soon as I read the synopsis for this book, I knew I would love it. LGBTQ+ romances are some of my favorite books to read, but most of the main characters in the ones I have read are gay or lesbian-I have rarely had the privilege of reading about a main character who identifies as bisexual, like I do.* The bisexual community is extremely underrepresented in literature, so I really appreciate Robin Talley writing Our Own Private Universe. One of the things that I always look for and always love in books is main characters who are relatable, who make me feel seen, and I absolutely got that from Our Own Private Universe.

TO ANYONE WHO WOULD LIKE TO TELL THE BISEXUAL PEOPLE IN THE WORLD THAT WE ARE NOT WORTHY: We are not greedy. We are not indecisive. This is not a phase. And you don’t have the right to tell us who we get to love. Now please fuck off.

Aki and Christa were so much fun to read about. They are very realistic and likable characters, and the romance between them is so well-done and sweet.

I genuinely don’t think this book had any flaws whatsoever. It is complete perfection *chefs kiss*. Robin Talley tackles so many important and difficult topics that people often avoid, without hiding or shying away from anything- same-sex sex, practicing safe sex, coming out, homophobia, what it’s like to be in a relationship, and more.

One thing I LOVED about this book was the way it tackled faith, religion, and Christianity. I am a Christian, something that is very important to me, and I have been very lucky to go to a church that is extremely accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. I recognize that many churches aren’t, though, and to LGBTQ+ people who value their religion, this can make coming to terms with their sexuality and the eventual prospect of coming out a lot harder.

I know many people who are extremely homophobic, and even though I’m not out to most of them it is still so, so hurtful to hear them say things like this: “Being gay is a sin.” “Gay people are ruining the world.” “Gay people should go to hell.” “It doesn’t matter what you identify as, the gender you are born as is the gender you are.” “People make up these horrible, ridiculous stories about being attracted to people who are the same gender as them, and none of it is true.” Yes, I have firsthand experienced people saying all of these things and more. Once at school, my girlfriend and I (we are not yet out as a couple at our school) asked several people ‘Are you for or against LGBTQ+?’ We received several responses about how horrible homophobia is and how no one should give a shit who somebody else loves, and those were so heartwarming. But the majority of the grade, about 75%, made one or more of the homophobic comments listed above, or their own variation. And that was extremely upsetting to me. Whenever I have heard someone say something like that, I advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. There are many people in the world who do support the LGBTQ+ community but stay silent, not standing up for them. That is just as hurtful as directly opposing it or being homophobic.

After reading this, I value it so much and would recommend it to anybody. This book is not just good, but it is important in the fucked-up world we live in today.

*at the time I wrote this review, I identified as bisexual. Now I identify as a biromantic lesbian
Profile Image for Danielle.
202 reviews260 followers
March 6, 2017
Actual rating: 3.5 stars

This book was really slow for me, and it just didn't hold my interest throughout. However, I did still enjoy bits of it, and I definitely think it's an important story with important morals, especially for teens coming to terms with their sexuality.

Full review to come on my blog:
Profile Image for Paradise Lost.
101 reviews14 followers
September 13, 2019
Robin Talley has this way of bringing serious issues to light in an extremely light, and more importantly, hopeful manner.

You see the world for all its flaws, how our society has shaped and conditioned us into being the people we are - it's not about right or wrong or good or bad. It's a truth - our external influences, be they religious, societal, familial, etc., have a huge impact on our perception of how we see and define the world.

Robin Talley always takes that into account, and shes not unsympathetic in her showing of it. In fact, she gives every side a completely sympathetic and unbiased voice, so you're not just given a black and white notion of how things are, but a much deeper understanding into every side, and allowed to make up your own mind.

She treats every issue with respect and care, theres no callousness in her portrayal of events - she takes you to the precipice, but she leaves the decision of whether you want to jump or not, or climb down, or just stay there, entirely up to you.

"Lies we tell ourselves" was the first book I read of hers, this being the second. And they were both beautiful portrayals of people and life, and the questions we hardly seem to think about. Like I said, there are no sides - just people figuring out who they want to be, and how to be that, even when it goes against everything they think they know. It's about people questioning their ideas of the world, and learning, that at the end of the day, the only real fight worth fighting, is the fight to be yourself - to first learn who that "you" is, and then fight like hell to hold on to them... it's like e.e. Cummings said, "to be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing it's best, night and day, to make you everybody else."
Profile Image for Kristy.
987 reviews139 followers
February 7, 2021
A great book for gay teens finding their way

This is the fifteenth book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Let's clear those shelves and delve into that backlist!

Aki Simon is ready to start living her life. At fifteen, she believes she's bisexual, but she's only dated boys, and only her best friend, Lori, knows about her feelings. So when Aki and Lori go on a church trip to Mexico, Aki vows to stop sitting around and start living. This becomes possible when she meets Christa, another student on the trip. Christa, older and more worldly, clearly seems to like Aki as much as Aki likes her. But how does Aki--whose father is a pastor and along on this trip--experiment with Christa on this trip? How does she figure out if she likes, or even loves, Christa? And if she does, how does she tell her religious parents?

I've read several books by Robin Talley and really loved them all. This one was a little young for me, but I think it would be an excellent read for the teen age group. It covers a range of vital and big themes for teens: bisexuality, coming out, safe sex, parental expectations, religion and being gay, etc. There's a moment when Aki is trying to track down dental dams, and she's researching how to use them. I'm honestly not sure I've ever seen that in a book, and it's so important and honestly, really cool. I would have loved to find a book like this when I was a teen trying to figure out a lot of various things.

Unfortunately, a lot of the plot of UNIVERSE is based on the premise of one character lying to another, which I really do not care for. It gets off to a slow start. And there is a lot of teen drama, with Lori and other kids on the trip at the center. Maybe it wouldn't seem so melodramatic for teens, who live in that world, but it's a bit much and gets repetitive.

Still, I love how important this book is, covering coming out and featuring such a diverse cast of characters. It's serious yet romantic. I would certainly recommend it for teens grappling with their sexuality, those coming out, or those wanting to support their queer friends or kids. 3.5 stars. (Also, if you are older and queer (or even if you're not), read Robin Talley's PULP. It's amazing.)

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Profile Image for Kirsty Hanson.
313 reviews55 followers
February 6, 2017
This one of my most anticipated releases for the entirety of 2017. After reading Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, I was eager to get my hands on her new book: Our Own Private Universe. I was excited because I read that this book was about a bisexual, POC, fifteen-year-old, who goes to Mexico with the church. So already, there's a lot going on here: we have a black girl, a bisexual protagonist who wants to explore her sexuality and it's set in Mexico where there are religious aspects to it. After finishing it, I realised that I was slightly disappointed. *lengthy review ahead*

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. Her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows she likes girls.

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. 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.

I hate insta-love when it just doesn't work... in The Sun is Also a Star, insta-love works beautifully, but in Our Own Private Universe, it's like INSTA-INSTA-INSTA LIKE. Not even one chapter goes by and Aki is looking at Christa and developing a crush on her. I mean I know that there's being thrown into the action and everything but jeez... This was quick.

BUT! Once the romance kicked off, it was so adorable. I loved how Aki and Christa were around each other and I loved how both of them were exploring their sexuality properly for the first time. We read how Aki is constantly getting butterflies and getting tongue-tied around Christa; she's constantly looking for her in a crowd just to get that millisecond of pleasure.

This book posed a lot of questions about lesbian sex. How do you have sex? What do you do? How does it feel? What do I need? All of these questions are brought up and answered throughout this book which I think is brilliant, as Talley is raising awareness that there is not just hetero sex. However, as brilliant as it was, it almost felt like I was reading a leaflet that I would find in the NHS clinic, it was very factual but put me off slightly as I thought that there must be a better way to incorporate these facts into the book. However, I will say that it's awesome to see an author promote safe sex; it's very refreshing.

I also wasn't expecting those sex scenes! I loved how Aki and Christa's friendship and the relationship was growing but I forgot that they were only fifteen - Christa is slightly older, so I'm guessing she's sixteen? The scenes that Talley described in the book were very descriptive and although in no way did I feel uncomfortable about the actual sexual content; I did feel uncomfortable about the age of Aki. I do believe that it's 100% okay to recognise your sexuality at any age and I believe that it's ok to explore your sexuality but in this mad rush like Aki did? It almost felt purely sexual. I wish the butterflies would have lasted for longer, I wish the friendship building was longer.

“Frankly, it's self-evident. As people of faith, it's our duty to love everyone, the way God loves everyone. There's no reason why any one group is less deserving of love - either the love of a church community, to the love of a family - than any other.”
― Robin Talley, Our Own Private Universe

The one thing that really bothered me about this book was all of the lies. Lies seemed to be coming out of every direction and it just really irritated me. I'm not on about hiding your sexuality from your parents; or hiding big, personal problems from people, but when it's really petty things like how Aki won't tell Christa her favourite song? C'mon... All of the lies that Lori told as well, I was so angry at her for most of the book and I just wanted her to stay away from Aki. The whole book was pretty much full of secrets and lies that I nearly got whiplash from a number of sudden things that happened.

However, the positives of this book were beautiful. I loved how the protagonist was black (finally!), I love how the whole book just focuses on sexuality. I think it's brilliant. I love how there were multiple LGB characters and I loved how the whole story was set in a church environment. There's so much backlash in today's society that religious people despise LGBT individuals and the generalisation of their beliefs; this book shows that people not everyone within the church community is close-minded and they will support you. I also loved the big debate that the church had at the end to do with important issues that are parallel with today. I love how they spoke about gay marriage, immigration and healthcare.

I loved how Talley subtly told the audience that we need to care for one another; it doesn't matter what religion you are, it doesn't matter what race you are, what sexuality you are; we all need to come together and stop the horrible forces that want to bring cultures and sub-cultures to the ground.

This is a very good book and although it's not as good as Lies We Tell Ourselves, it tackles some important issues, it's a diverse read and Talley's writing never fails to entertain.

Disclaimer: thank you to Harlequin for sending me a copy of Our Own Private Universe in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Sofii♡ (A Book. A Thought.).
401 reviews426 followers
March 12, 2017

DFN and disappointed


Actually my expectations were high when I started with this book, so I think that may have influenced how I felt.

Let's say that this one is just not for me,I liked it at first and then it just got worse and worse.
Most of the characters have made me feel quite uncomfortable, their attitudes are incomprehensible and most of the time I don't know where they want to go with their behaviors.

Too much drama unnecessary! I understand that there must be, is what makes the story a little more interesting, isn't it?, But this has been too much and I really ended up getting bored a lot.

I didn't like the relationship between Aki and Christa at all, I feel it's strange and a little forced, I understand that the book wants to focus on LGBTQ relationships and that is incredible, actually it's the main topic for which I decided to read the book , but still I think that there isn't any type of plot well armed, in fact it is based solely on the relationship between the girls and they're annoying to me, then I couldn't allow myself to enjoy the book.

There is another thing I wasn't going to talk about but I decided to do it and I will be brief, I speak spanish, I'm from Argentina as many of you will know already and when I see spanish words,so poorly written,It horrified me , and I know that I can let it go, because I'm sure that my english isn't perfect but maybe other people are offended by it, so I wanted to highlight that in here

On the other hand I don't try to be mean here, I want you to always know that it's only my opinion and how it made me feel, and I hope it works for most of you!

P.D: That cover is Beautiful!
Profile Image for Natasha.
492 reviews377 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
February 25, 2017
I received an arc from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review

dnf @ 17% (or more appropriately rage quit)

I've never read any of Robin Talley's other books but I've heard they're all problematic in one way or another so that was quite off putting.

I actually didn't think I'd get an arc of this arc. I've tried getting other arcs from anything that isn't Riptide and I've been mostly denied, so imagine my surprise when I woke up with an approval.

The writing was okay, nothing gripping for me. However I didn't like the way Aki spoke with distaste to Mexican food and I found her quite annoying.

What was the real kicker for me was her kissing a girl she knew had a boyfriend. So yeah, no thank you. I really don't want to read a book with bisexual girl cheating stereotypes (again).
Profile Image for - ̗̀  jess  ̖́-.
575 reviews358 followers
August 17, 2017
In my opinion, Our Own Private Universe is Robin Talley's best since Lies We Tell Ourselves. I'm really glad there's another book in the YA canon that discusses faith and sexuality, and I think Talley did a good job of incorporating modern day political issues into the plot.

I really liked Aki as a character. She was determined and intelligent and well-rounded. Her love of music and subsequent fallout from her quitting music played into the plot a bit less than I would have liked. At times I forgot that she was a musician. Otherwise, she was quite well-written. I'm sure there's criticism about a white woman writing a black character, and since I'm not black I do not feel comfortable going too into it, but it definitely shows when I think of books I've read from black authors. I really loved Aki's family as well - they were probably my favourite characters in the book (and Jake, who was ... a complete badass I love him). They were all so supportive of each other, and I love families that are like that. The family drama was probably the least dramatic in the book. Aki and Drew's dad is like, a really good dad. Wow. I really liked him. I liked the modern-day political climate presented in the book - it didn't go too dramatically conservative or too dramatically liberal, which I found to be pretty accurate.

As a bi person, I found the portrayal of bisexuality to be really accurate - I don't know if this is an ownvoices book, but I really related to a lot of what the bi characters talked about - struggling with identity, wondering how you like different genders. Even though it was a bit pedantic towards the end, I'm really grateful that there's discussion around bisexuality and what it's like to be bisexual, and how bisexuality differs from pansexuality, and how different identity can be for people. (A pan character! This might be the first pan character I've seen!) Our Own Private Universe succeeds in bi representation very well, and I'm pleased.

The romance wasn't the stand-out to me, which was a bit disappointing. I felt like Aki and Christa lacked the chemistry I wanted them to have. But they do have a solid relationship by the end, and I'm happy that we're finally getting some nice f/f romances.
Profile Image for Journey.
301 reviews55 followers
March 16, 2017
i want to like this book, i want to like robin talley, but i just don't. Aki and Christa and Lori are obnoxious. they're not unlikeable... they're not likeable... they just are. none of them have much personality but they do a lot of stupid, annoying stuff. yes, teenagers lie, but how do you have two characters in the book not just lying but completely fabricating stories about some pretty big things?

then Aki thinks she's Special because she likes Prince, who, of course, no other teenagers have heard of, and her "raspberry beret" joke falls on uncultured swine ears. Christa is cultured enough to know about Harry Potter, though, and they spend multiple paragraphs talking about having crushes on Draco (Draco, not Malfoy, like anyone outside fandom calls him by his first name in casual conversation lol) and Ron AND THE SOUNDTRACK. GOD.

and besides all that... there is A LOT of lecturing. Aki googles lesbian sex and we get excerpts from websites. towards the end, Christa takes the time to explain romantic orientations to Aki, wherein you can be biromantic heterosexual, like that split attraction model isn't homophobic.

Talley also continues to put snarky intracommunity dialogue into her black characters' mouths like she did in Lies We Tell Ourselves, with Aki making a mean comment about another black woman trying to treat her like they're "two black girls against the world" but "she's super old and dresses funny."

it's just not good.

p.s. other reviewers: Aki is black. she calls herself black. you can use that word too instead of "person of color" every time.

if you want awesome religious lesbian ya, read Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit!
Profile Image for Sarah Lillian Books.
397 reviews47 followers
July 22, 2018
Added after: I have recently read some negative reviews on this book and opened my eyes to problematic representation in almost all aspects of the book. Because of this I changed my rating, I still love the book, and I wish I read it when in high school in grades 9 or 10. As someone who is new to writing reviews, I'm still learning to be critical of what I read and I appreciate when I read different opinions. I will leave my original review after listing problems other reviewers discussed.

Problems that came up:
-Author never addresses if Lori is her only friend or not, why if so
-Never addresses what does Aki do without music in her life
-Or what is her relationship with her faith as a queer Christian teenager
-The main character never mentions if she has other black friend back home or doesn't seem overly concerned being a black person in Mexico, especially in regards to her feelings on this
-Her reaction to the topic of police brutality or lack there of
-Racist comments by two side characters were never really challenged, but in fact dismissed
-Not to mention the cover is pretty whitewashed, the black girl is lighter and without braids that Aki has
-Author talks down to her audience and the main character seems clueless about poverty (I didn't feel talked down while reading I felt the book is for a younger age group so that didn't bug me, but understand the issues there)
-And more.


Do you ever finish a book and cuddle it after? Just hold to your chest and thank god you read this book?

Wow this book unpacked a lot. On the surface the book may seem just a YA summer romance, but this book is more than that. This is the second book I have ever read with a same gender relationship and I love it just as I loved the other. Both were also interracial, same gender relationship, so yay for that too!

The themes are what make this book great, at least for me it does. For example, discovering your sexuality that it's not black and white. But also, how Christianity addresses many things, not just the queer community, but war, police brutality, and more. Growth, growth that the characters experienced after being honest and having an open mind. As well, safe sex is important in all the shape and forms it can take.


I loved the love story and I wish there was more, just a short summer. Aki and Christa were amazing, flawed characters who were trying to stumble through their understanding of what they want, honesty, sexuality, and the world around them. They made some pretty stupid decisions, but they definitely had growth from their choices and I can't help but appreciate that. Aki, her brother Drew and her dad had such a wonderful story line. There was even some moments where I teared up because it was so great. So great that that the relationship wasn't realistic, there was no real questioning, but blind acceptance.
Profile Image for Lauren James.
Author 16 books1,418 followers
April 16, 2017
I was sent a copy of this to review a while ago, and I haven't been able to get into it. I've tried three or four times but it just hasn't stuck. I think I've worked out why - it's because the main character is more of a plot device than a character.

She's extremely naive, which is used to educate the reader on a whole range of political, ethical and moral subjects. That may be useful, but it doesn't make an enjoyable reading experience.
Profile Image for Bee.
430 reviews861 followers
February 6, 2017
The only thing that saved this from being a one star review, was the emphasis on safe sex.
Maddie's review sums up all my other thoughts perfectly, so check that out here
Profile Image for Alex Nonymous.
Author 15 books295 followers
July 1, 2022
I'm so torn. I LOVE Robin Talley. With my entire soul and being. While the age of the character and the topics of discussion made me a tad uncomfortable as a now adult reader, sex-positive teen books are a must and ones with 15 year old MCs who talk about safe queer sex and so rare they're basically non-existance. YA books about questioning your identity? Incredible.

But Aki's kind of a mess in a way that felt more plot-device than actual human. She's also black which threw me. Maybe I wouldn't have noticed were I not hyperaware that Robin Talley isn't, but this being blurbed as "own voice" instead of specifying "bi own voice" rubbed me the wrong way since I feel like it falsely advertises Talley as being in all the same minority groups as Aki. The experience of being a white bi teen and black bi teen are vastly different and it felt like Aki's blackness was really inconsequential to her character which like (in your very white reviewers opinion) would not be such a "mentioned only in character description" thing especially since we know she's basically the only black member of her church group and currently in a foreign country where I feel like most people would be concerned about how their race would be perceived at least in passing? I don't know, I obviously went in knowing either Aki or her LI would be black based on the cover but just assumed it was going to be the LI because of the own voice description and after finding out it was Aki, I don't know if it would have been worse or better if Talley made the story about Aki's intersectionality.
Profile Image for Angie.
2,326 reviews228 followers
April 3, 2017
I received an ARC through NetGalley.

I was nervous going into Our Own Private Universe, because my introduction to this author was kind of a disaster. But I am so glad that I decided to give her another chance! Aki has just realized that she’s bisexual and the only person who knows is her BFF, Lori. The girls are on a trip with their youth group and two others to Mexico, when they form a pact. They’re going to have summer flings! Aki already has her eyes on Christa, but that pact gives her the extra push that needs to just go for it.

Our Own Private Universe has a lot of great stuff happening in it! Other than having more than one bisexual character, each with their own experiences and views on their sexuality, there’s talk of alternative relationships. We’re also immersed in a religious group and get to see how Aki’s sexuality fits into that. Aki also becomes invested in some of the measures that her church is going to be voting on ranging from marriage equality, climate change, and global health care. All of these are very important issues and I was happy to see teens and young adults having serious discussions and thinking critically about them.

As for the romantic portion, Aki and Christa were very sweet at times, but also frustrating! I suppose this just made them feel realistic. Christa is a year older than Aki, but comes across as more experience which has Aki nervous. She’s such an overthinker, but I liked that because it leads to discussions on safe sex for two girls which is not something I have ever read before! Where I got frustrated with them, was that there was a lack of trust at times. However, being in close proximity with such a small group of people when rumors start flying makes it easy to point fingers, since there’s only so many people around. At least they talk it out, if not right away.

One thing that I noticed about Our Own Private Universe which is very similar to What We Left Behind, is that the author tends to give off a lot of information but in a textbook sort of way. It’s very important information, which I certainly think needs to be there, but it didn’t feel natural. Aki and Christa seem to be taking turns reading from a brochure about sexuality when they talk about their identities and relationship. Maybe this is how teens talk today? They certainly have more access to information than I did ten years ago at that age. But even still, it was info-dumpy and the girls didn’t sound genuine.

Overall, I really enjoyed Our Own Private Universe. I’m always interested in reading about how religious characters, or those who are part of a religious community, handle coming out or just being queer among their family and peers. I’m happy to report that Aki has a pretty easy time coming out, so this is a happy queers book!

Read more of my reviews at Pinkindle Reads & Reviews.
Profile Image for Antonia.
388 reviews95 followers
October 4, 2018
“If I wanted to have an interesting life - which I did - then there was no point sitting around debating everything in my head on a constant loop. If I wanted my life to change, then I had to do something. Or at least try.”

This was okay, but definitely not more than that. It just wasn't that well written, the characters were kinda the worst (and not at all like they would be 15?!) and it was at least 80 pages too long. I also felt like the author tried too hard to make the book deeper than it was. You're writing a cute love-story (not very successfully) - no need to force health care and the military into it. If you're not gonna do it right, might as well not do it at all. But maybe that's just my opinion.
For me contemporarys are a hit or miss for their characters and I really didn't like the ones in here.
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