Review Detail

Young Adult Fiction 1765
A Solid Story of Teen Love
Overall rating
Writing Style
Fifteen-year-old Aki Simon is on a summer mission trip in Mexico with other members of her congregation—including her older brother and her dad (the youth group leader). She and her best friend, Lori, are the youngest of the group and only allowed along for the ride because adults in their lives are chaperones. Their church is joining others to help a community in need, and coming from a small school, Aki and Lori are excited to meet other teens. It should be noted that Aki is black and bisexual, but she’s still trying to figure out what being bisexual means.

Lori and Aki make a deal that the trip will be an adventure and an exploration beyond a new country and culture. The girls make a pact to hook up with someone while on the trip, and from night one, Aki embraces the challenge as she spies cute and edgy-looking Christa at the first gathering of all the youth groups.

OUR OWN PRIVATE UNIVERSE has so much potential, and there are many great moments in the book. First, it’s great to read a book in which a teen is exploring her sexuality in as open and honest a way as Aki does. Also, through the course of the story, Aki and the other teens examine some of the controversial topics of our times (gay marriage, war, climate change, international healthcare, etc.), but the overriding themes are trust and honesty. The difficulty in being honest both with yourself and with others is tied into every relationship and every conversation, and determining who to trust with those truths is part of that.

As a mom, I appreciate that part of the romance between Aki and Christa focuses on safe lesbian sex. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book—YA or otherwise—that managed that detail. The romance between Aki and Christa is sweet, but complicated, and it’s what drives the story. The book moves at a rather slow pace (as sweet romances sometimes do), and the teens in it are kind of annoying and add a whole lot of unnecessary drama. I couldn't really relate to any of the characters, and many of them were stereotypes. I was also disappointed that there wasn’t greater exploration of Aki’s other way of being an outsider—her race comes up in vague references, but it’s all way more shallow than I would have expected. The way the book looks at the various controversial issues is a plus, although it’s pretty obvious where the author’s views are on all of them. Things don’t get too preachy though, and I firmly agree with Talley's views on all of them!

I recommend OUR OWN PRIVATE UNVIVERSE to adults and teens who want an entry level (with some steamy scenes--fortunately well-written!) exploration of a romantic relationship between two teen girls. I have another book by Robin Talley on my bookshelf waiting to be read, and I’ll definitely move it up in my to-read pile. She writes well, and I appreciate her unflinching look topics that might cause others pause.

My thanks to YA Books Central and the publisher for an ARC of the book in exchange for my unbiased review.
Good Points
A look at some controversial current events.

An examination of what it is to be bisexual for a teen.
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