Saturday 18 March 2017

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Review: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Our Own Private Universe by Robin TalleyNetGalleyOur Own Private Universe by Robin Talley (eProof) - 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’s theory is that she’s only got 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 her friend Lori set off on a 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 something tells her its not going to be that easy...
From Goodreads.

Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley is a book I was really looking forward to. Sadly, it isn't a book I enjoyed all that much, however, there's no denying that it's an incredibly important LGBTQ* YA novel.

I found Aki to be kind of immature - not in that she was childish, but that she fell super quickly for Christa (not instalove, but seriously liking her from the very beginning - there was no crush stage.), and would, for a few chapters, always be questioning whether or not Christa liked her, despite Christa, the confident girl she appears, having no problem telling her how much she likes her. There really is no doubting Christa, she's completely honest and upfront about liking Aki, Aki still finds reasons to doubt it. But then there was Christa herself; Christa who has a boyfriend, who she is on a break from as they won't see each other all summer, so they can see other people - but doesn't consider that Aki might have a problem with this, even if she is quite happy to be with someone and mess about with someone else. And Aki does have a problem, even though she tries to pretend that she doesn't. Also, Christa has very strict, conservative parents, and although they're not in Mexico as part of the church voluntary project to help out a church, she's very worried about anyone knowing about her and Aki in case it backs to them, and so she is very& controlling and is adamant about keeping it all a secret. I can understand her being worried that her parents would find out she's bi, but she always had the upper hand in their relationship, and Aki would do whatever she wanted it. I didn't really like either of them.

But this is only the second novel I have read that doesn't fade-to-black f/f sex scenes (the other being The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth). They're not gratuitous, they're not even overly descriptive, but you know exactly what is happening, and I was just so pleased reading them. How many YA novels with straight couples who have sex are there? So many. Yet this is only the second YA novel (that I know of) that actually has two girls having sex on page, and it's so important for teen girls who are attracted to people of the same sex - whether they're gay or bi, or however they choose to identify - to get to see that in a book, where it's seen as nothing other than completely normal. There was interesting parts where Aki actually wonders what actually constitutes as "sex" when it's between two girls - how far do you have to go for you to be able to say you've had sex? - but she defines it herself, she decides when she has had sex.

This is also the first LGBTQ* YA novel I've read that deals with safe sex between two girls, the third I've read that actually discusses dental dams, which should be used for safe oral sex. To be fair, everything mentioned in this book in regards to safe sex between two girls - the dental dams, the latex gloves, or barriers as they're described in Aki's research - are things that any girl/anyone who has sex with a girl, irregardless of their sexuality, should know about. And yet this is only the third book I've read that mentions dental dams (the other two being Anatomy of a Boyfriend and Anatomy of a Single Girl, both by Daria Snadowsky), and the first that mentions latex gloves. The gloves seems like common sense when you think about it, but it's not something that's ever occurred to me before. This is me going slightly off tangent, but I wonder if the use of dental dams and latex gloves are discussed in sex education classes, in reference to either straight or f/f sex? I never had sex ed at school as I went to a Catholic school, but times have changed since then as religious schools also have to teach sex ed now, though in line with their beliefs, so I wonder what's taught now. Are these things mentioned?

I also loved the musings Aki had in regards to her sexuality. She knows she's bisexual, that she's attracted to both boys and girls, but what does being bi really mean? Does it mean you have to be equally attracted to boys and girls? Does she have to alternate between the genders when she's dating people? What if she's more attracted to girls than boys, does that mean she's actually gay? But then she has conversations has hears about hetero- and homoromantic, that it's possible to be bisexual - sexually attracted to both genders - but you can be more romantically attracted to one or the other. Aki has questions about herself and her sexuality, but then she gets answers that help her figure out who she is. And I think this is just so important for teen readers who may be have similar questions of their own.

Social justice is also a pretty big part of the story, as Aki's new friend Jake runs petitions on various topics the Church will be discussing in regards to things they may allow, like same sex marriage, and aid they will give. Through talking to Jake, Aki is inspired herself to think about giving aid to help international health after what she's seen in Mexico, and this leads on to other people getting pretty passionate about other topics that will be discussed. It's so fascinating, but also really awesome to see teenagers not just having opinions, but actually trying to make a difference.

Our Own Private Universe has a fairy diverse cast, too. Aki is black and bisexual, Christa is pansexual, Jake, is also bi, and there are also the Mexican people they meet while volunteering.

Although the story itself isn't something I enjoyed, Our Own Private Universe is such an important story, and one I'm sure many others will love. Definitely give this book a read, because really, for what it does, it's pretty fantastic.

Thank you to YAHQ via NetGalley for the eProof.

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Published: 9th February 2017
Publisher: YAHQ
Robin Talley's Website

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  1. AHHHA OMG this review was so lovely! I recently read this book and didn't love it a whole lot because it was often slow and I couldn't connect with the characters but I really appreciate how Talley had such great representation in there and why this book is so important! Absolutely fantastic review!

    xx Anisha @ Sprinkled Pages

    1. Aww, thank you, Anisha! You're so kind! I, too, absolutely loved the great things Talley did with this book, even if this particular story didn't do it for me. I think it's awesome that we're able to do that, you know? To not enjoy a book, but to still see it's value and how great it will be for people.

  2. I love Talley's books. I need to read this one. Fantastic review.