Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley
Genre: YA fiction
Publication date: January 31, 2017
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Page count: 384
Star rating: 3.5/5
Aki knows she’s bisexual, but she’s never actually had a girlfriend. Still, she knows that she likes girls. The only person who knows is her best friend Lori, as she’s afraid to come out to her religious parents. Aki and Lori spend their summer away at a mission trip in Mexico, held by their church. There, Aki meets Christa and they immediately click. The two girls are a great match, but the constrictions of their religious group force them to lie, hide, and cover up their feelings. Aki and Christa could have something extraordinary, but are they willing to make that sacrifice for each other?
I had some mixed feeling about Our Own Private Universe, but, ultimately, the positives outweighed the negatives. One extremely important topic this book highlights is safe sex. I haven’t read another F/F book, young adult or adult, that touches on safe sex. Aki goes out of her way to find female condoms, which I thought was so cool. I bet the teen and early twenty’s audience that Robin Talley is aiming for might be a bit uninformed about safe sex, the importance of condoms, and protection against STDs in queer female relationships. I was pleasantly surprised when Aki started thinking about how she would obtain dental dams. For this reason, I would 100% recommend this book to queer females who are looking to see themselves represented in literature.
Another awesome thing about Own Our Private Universe is that it features two women who are both interested in men and women. Aki is bisexual and not confused. The stereotype that bisexual people are merely confused is harmful because it erases their identities and invalidates their feelings. In addition, sometimes books about marginalized demographics are harmful for individuals who are part of those demographics to read (they’re triggering, disrespectful, or just not factual). This is definitely a book with bisexual representation that is safe, considerate, and realistic of bi struggles. Often, books that trivialize LGBT lives are written by straight, cisgender authors. It was awesome to read a book written by a queer author.
After I finished Our Own Private Universe, I skimmed a few reviews. I found one that pointed out something that unsettled me in the novel and I think it is worth mentioning. Although Aki is not white, her church’s mission trip sent a message of a white savior complex. Wikipedia defines this as, “a white person who acts to help non-white people, with the help in some contexts perceived to be self-serving”. I believe that Robin Talley should have tried to educate her readers about the harm these self-serving intentions can cause. I felt a little disappointed in this aspect of the book.
Overall, I think Own Our Private Universe was a realistic, healthy, respectful way of looking at a bisexual girl discovering herself. The cast was diverse, but I believe some of the racial implications of the mission trip could have been clarified. I will recommend this book to young, queer women who are looking for literature that features characters like themselves. Our Own Private Universe introduced many topics that other LGBTQ YA books neglect, which was exciting. I just found out Robin Talley is supposed to have a novel coming out in 2018 and I can hardly wait!