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Our Own Private Universe Hardcover – January 31, 2017
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"An important and heartfelt contribution to contemporary teen lit about queer women: hopeful, realistic, and romantic, Talley's newest is sure to satisfy." -Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"This pitch-perfect romance is all heart, touching on serious issues but never becoming too heavy, and will be a strong addition to any teen collection." -School Library Journal
"Reminiscent of Sara Ryan's Empress of the World, Talley's latest is a sweet love story about discovering who you want to be with and, more important, who you want to be." -Booklist
About the Author
Robin Talley studied literature and communications at American University. She lives in Washington, DC, with her wife, but visits both Boston and New York regularly despite her moral opposition to Massachusetts winters and Times Square. Her first book was 2014's Lies We Tell Ourselves. Visit her online at robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.
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Top Customer Reviews
Diversity: 4 – This Is Our World
Racial-Ethnic: 3 (Aki and her brother are biracial, as is Aunt Miranda; lots of Mexican characters in the background)
QUILTBAG: 5 (three bisexual characters, an out-and-proud lesbian, use of the more inclusive LGBTQIA acronym, and the book is basically Forever… for queer girls)
Intersectionality: 4 (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! Instead, have a similar one.
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.
I thought Our Own Private Universe was a realistic portrayal of an LGBT teenager’s struggle to define her identity. Aki has so many questions. What does it mean to be bisexual? Now that she’s been involved with a girl, if they break up, does her next relationship have to be with a boy? Should she come out to her parents? How do two girls have sex anyway?
Since the author is married to a woman, I assume that she’s a member of the LGBT community and was able to draw from her experience to make this book authentic. In the acknowledgements she says that this book is the book she wished she had when she was a young-adult reader herself. I also think this book would be a great resource for LGBT teenagers. Even though Aki is fictional, I think it would help them to feel like they’re not alone. It always feels good to be represented in a positive way in popular culture. It’s also good to learn about people who are different than you so straight teens would benefit and enjoy this book as well.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Okay, so first off I'd like to mention the diversity in this book is what I probably...Read more