Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Our Own Private Universe

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 a...

Title:Our Own Private Universe
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0373211988
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:384 pages

Our Own Private Universe Reviews

  • Emily
    Jun 22, 2016

    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 was 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

    much drama. Everyone was just lying to each other and causing so much petty drama.

    Howe

    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 was 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

    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.

  • Stacee
    Dec 16, 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 w

    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**

  • Maddie (Heart Full Of Books)
    Feb 02, 2017

    I don't even know how to put into words how disappointed I am with this one. It just...fell flat. The setting did nothing to enhance the story (and was void of any kind of adult supervision, which was unrealistic for the type of trip they're on), the social activist thread came way too late in the story for me to be convinced it was Aki's passion, her hidden backstory with the music school was over emphasised and came to nothing, there was so much unnecessary drama based on lying about stupid th

    I don't even know how to put into words how disappointed I am with this one. It just...fell flat. The setting did nothing to enhance the story (and was void of any kind of adult supervision, which was unrealistic for the type of trip they're on), the social activist thread came way too late in the story for me to be convinced it was Aki's passion, her hidden backstory with the music school was over emphasised and came to nothing, there was so much unnecessary drama based on lying about stupid things.

    What I hated most was how Aki completely abandoned her best friend, Lori, as soon as she started getting close to Christa. Friendships and relationships can co-exist, but after reading this, you'd think that's impossible. I also genuinely despised the parts of the book that tried to infer what a 'normal' teenager is (someone who doesn't sit and read books like me, for sure) and that the only way to be interesting is to be in a relationship. I read somewhere that 60% of teens aren't in romantic relationships. Does that make more than half our age group boring??

    As far as bisexual and lesbian representation goes...I don't know. There were lots of lesbian stereotypes, and suggestions that Aki was being bisexual wrong (??) She did really question her sexuality and I appreciated how her struggle to find herself was represented, but something about it just didn't sit right with me. I'll be interested to see reviews from people who identify as bisexual to see if this was well done and sensitive. The characters had a conversation at the end about sexual orientation as well as romantic orientation which felt a little shoehorned in for the sake of it, like bisexual people shouldn't feel the need to explain themselves to others all the time.

    The one big positive for this book was the discussion of safe sex, regardless of your sexuality and how important it is, so I'll give it a star for that. I can count the number of times I've read LGBT+ sex scenes on my thumb, but I need more than two hands to count how many hetero sex scenes I've read, so I'm all for this.

    Would I recommend? I know a lot of people were pumped about it as an Own Voices, diverse read, but maybe try Robin Talley's other books if you're looking for books with LGBT+ protagonists.

  • April (Aprilius Maximus)
    Jan 30, 2017

    This books definitely has a lot of pros, but unfortunately there were an equal amount of cons for me. The diversity in

    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

    This books definitely has a lot of pros, but unfortunately there were an equal amount of cons for me. The diversity in

    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.

  • Emer
    Jan 09, 2017

    This book is just the cutest thing I have read in forever. EXACTLY what I want from my contemporary YA reads and extra brownie points for promoting diversity in such an awesome fashion.

    Also look how cute this cover is:

    Nice to see a YA book with an image of two girls openly sharing an intimate moment rather than the traditionally safe hand holding.

    The main focus of the novel is on teenager Aki who, like pretty much anyone at that age, is trying to figure out her way in the world. She knows she

    This book is just the cutest thing I have read in forever. EXACTLY what I want from my contemporary YA reads and extra brownie points for promoting diversity in such an awesome fashion.

    Also look how cute this cover is:

    Nice to see a YA book with an image of two girls openly sharing an intimate moment rather than the traditionally safe hand holding.

    The main focus of the novel is on teenager Aki who, like pretty much anyone at that age, is trying to figure out her way in the world. She knows she likes both boys and girls but she's never even kissed a girl so it's all very confusing for her. This one summer she goes away to Mexico on a volunteer project with her church group and her youth minister Dad and decides that this will be the summer to change all that has gone before. She makes a pact with her BFF Lori about finding a summer fling and the story takes off.

    The early chapters of this book when Aki meets Christa are just the most adorable chapters I've read in ages. Lots of people complain about insta-love in books. This wasn't that. It was insta-LIKE!!! You know that feeling when you get butterflies in your tummy when you've just met someone new who is a combination of cute and funny and interesting... We've all been there, no matter our sexual preferences. And especially as teenagers. And this book started with such a great big dollop of insta-like that even my tummy got butterflies!!!! Definitely maxed out on the adorabilty scale.

    So what do you do when you're a girl who likes another girl?

    What do you say? Think? Feel?

    How do you have sex? Do you want to have sex?

    Is this love? Is this a fling?

    Does it mean you're just attracted to girls now? Can you still like boys?

    When you dream about the future do you picture yourself being married to man or a woman?

    Will your parents still love and accept you?

    Will you still be welcome in your church?

    There are a lot of questions that must rage through anyone's mind when they're trying to figure this extra stuff out right? And these questions raged through Aki's mind.

    What I loved about the book is it felt very teenage with realistic teenage problems.

    So many times we read books where the so called teenage characters don't act like teenagers. In this one, they do!

    They do LOTS of dumb things.

    They push each other.

    Have falling outs,

    Petty squabbles,

    They casually lie to save face,

    They stick their heads in the sand about things,

    They don't think about the consequences of their actions.

    Was it a lot of needless drama????

    I didn't think so. At that age everything in life is a 'life or death situation', hormones are flying and feelings & tensions are easily heightened. And everything is confusing.

    Okay, as the book progressed perhaps it did wander into the territory of being a 'how to' manual on safe lesbian sex and at times read like an LGBT information pamphlet. However, I believe it is great to see a book promote safe sex between two girls; it is not a subject that tends to get much focus or airtime. And it wasn't written in an overly-gratuitous manner; it all felt very natural and would be a great read for any young girl with questions regarding her sexual identity.

    I also liked the positive spin that was placed on being lesbian, gay or bisexual within a church community. It may yet not be entirely realistic for all religions but I think writing about openness and acceptance of your sexual orientation within a church environment can only promote positive change in the future. I always like the idea that you should promote change from within. So by writing such a positive viewpoint of the older church members it could maybe encourage young teens to stay within their churches, if they wish to, and to make it the norm within their church that being gay or accepting of being gay etc and being a religious person are not too diametrically opposing things. I should point out that the book didn't have a completely fuzzy view on societal acceptance of being LGBT though. There were characters who took "issue" with it and Aki did not feel completely accepted by everyone who knew she was bisexual so it wasn't all shiny and happy.

    This is a great book if you like cute and fluffy contemporary YAs. And as it has such a strong, positive message, I'm sure if you were feeling as confused in your life as Aki was then this book would make you feel that little bit less alone and put a smile on your face.

    Who needs to put a term on what we are anyway?

    We like what we like.

    We love who we love.

    At the end of the day we are all just people.

    And everyone is beautiful in their own unique way.

    *A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

  • Kassidy
    Feb 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 g

    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.

  • Emma Giordano
    Feb 20, 2017

    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 g

    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,

    Also on page 62,

    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"

    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,

    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

    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.

  • Alyssa Krasnansky
    Mar 02, 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

    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.


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