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 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 Lori set off on a church youth-group 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 it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you’re in love? It’s going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love.
“Because, well. I had this theory.
Granted, all I ever had were theories. That was the whole problem. My life, all fifteen years of it, had been all about the hypothetical and never about the actual.”
Our Own Private Universe is definitely one of my favorite LGBTQ+ book of not only this year but maybe even overall..? I can’t believe I’m even saying that because I’ve read so many wonderful LGBTQ+ books such as More Happy Than Not and Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And believe me when I tell you that this book definitely deserves a spot on the shelf along with them. This is a beautifully written story of a girl that is just trying to learn more about herself, and along the way, more about the world.
“Being bi, just like the rest of my life, had always been mostly hypothetical.”
Aki Simon is a very strong and complex main character. Right from the very start I knew that I was going to fall for this book just because of the way Aki thought. She is caring but also calculates and plans her moves, such as her theories. She’s worried that the hypotheticals in her life are just that hypothetical and not real life. So she takes her life into her own hands and thrusts herself into new, and maybe uncomfortable, situations to test herself. I know that everyone always says “I really connected to this character” or “they were just like me”. But I am not joking when I literally burst into tears while reading this book (They weren’t sad tears because this book isn’t really filled with many sad parts. They were tears of “this person gets me”.). A friend persuaded me to push Our Own Private Universe to the top of my TBR because in her words “this character is YOU”. And oh my goodness it was like having my mind cracked open and the findings were written on the page. I’ve never been this connected to a book or character but the way Aki thinks and the way Robin Talley translates it on the page? It’s nothing less than magical. Maybe this is why this book was so moving for me but this is definitely a part of why I will always hold this book very close to me.
“That was when I forgot how to breathe altogether.””
Aki and Christa’s relationship is very complex in this book. Neither one is publicly out. Christa has a boyfriend back home and her family would disown her if they knew. Aki doesn’t know how her father, the minister in charge of the mission group in Mexico, would react. Christa and her boyfriend made a deal to see other people during the summer, so Aki decides that this relationship will just be a summer fling. They have to sneak around Mexico, kissing in alleyways, and holding hands underneath tables. Everything is going perfectly until word starts getting out and their hiding place isn’t so secret anymore. They’re relationship is so pure. It is the definition of puppy love . Both of them can’t help but smile when the other enters the room. It was so much fun to follow along with them as they not only learn more about each other but discover things about themselves.
“I’d wondered what it would be like to have a real boyfriend. Maybe a girlfriend, too. Someday.”
This book was very focused on Aki discovering who she is, her sexuality most of all. But it was like no regular romance out there. It was like no regular Young Adult Romance out there. Robin Talley wrote this story so even when talking about serious and uncomfortable topics you feel safe and comfortable learning about it along with Aki. If you aren’t into semi-graphic intimate scenes this book may not be the best for you at the moment. Talley really delves into the topic of what it means to love someone and how you can healthily show that love, which she demonstrated through safe sex. That’s right ladies and gentlemen safe sex for a homosexual relationship. I was insanely happy to see this. Not only do YA books shy away from talking about condoms they even shy away from using anything but very vague descriptions to give you a hint that a couple had sex. But no no no you won’t find this here, Talley had Aki research and find out about homosexual safe sex, such as using dental dams, and let’s be honest many readers were probably learning this along with Aki. It was very refreshing to read a realistic young girl learning about sex and stumbling through it just like many others.
“The who mattered a lot more than the what.”
This story not only deals with sexuality and romance it also incorporates how faith and beliefs can change the way you view the world. Both Aki and Christa are both Christian and they even meet on a mission trip down to Mexico to help build a church there. Many people have this preconceived notion that every single Christian person has to be against LGBTQ+ but this book took that notion, tore it to shreds and lit it on fire. This book showed both the bad and the good of coming out. Aki mostly showing the good side of things and Christa mostly showing the bad. Christa does not want their relationship to be public in fear that her parents will find out. As described by one of her close friends, her parents were the type to consider disowning her because of her sexuality. While on the other hand Aki slowly came out to her close friends and brother and was not completely understood but was wholeheartedly accepted and loved by them all. Our Own Private Universe showed how no one can ever tell you when it’s your time to come out, it’s whenever you feel comfortable and safe to do so. Because this is a big decision to make, it’s one that can alter your life. But even if you have not come out that does not change who you are, you are still valid and strong and beautiful.
“If changed people’s minds. I’d taken something that was so obvious to me it didn’t even need to be explained and, somehow, I’d explained it.”
Another topic that was dealt with was social and economical issues that are present in the world today. I was super excited when I saw these begin to surface throughout the book through petitions, and in the end a debate, because these are topics that may not be addressed in your average light hearted contemporary read. These topics were to be discussed with the Church to see how they, as a whole, would stand for or agents certain topics. This being said the topics were a huge discussion point among our main character, who’s father is a preacher at their Church. Being able to hear both sides of certain issues during the debate was interesting but it was even more interesting to see how discussing these topics helped Aki develop as a character. Some issues that were main focal points other than the obvious Same-Sex Marriage was Foreign Aid to Countries in Need. We see this topic in a real world setting when Aki stumbles upon the only clinic in the town they are staying at, and realizing that there was only one doctor on staff for a portion of Mexico that housed hundreds of people. As you can tell this book was much more than just about the LGBTQ+ community.
“Frankly, it’s self-evident. As people of faith, it’s our duty to love everyone, the way God loves everyone. There’s no reason why any one group is less deserving of love – either the love of a church community, to the love of a family – than any other.”
At first I didn’t know how I felt about the writing style, but after a couple chapters it felt as natural as breathing. The first person POV gave you the feel of being inside Aki’s head. All of her worries were your worries, all of her fears were your fears, the love she had you felt in your core. Even with different troubles you could relate to her because of how fluid the writing was. There weren’t any major pauses or lulls in the story which made it an easy read.
“Girls like me smiled politely and always did the right thing. Girls like me definitely didn’t sneak away at night to do things that would crush their fathers. And if they did, girls like me knew how to keep it to themselves.”
I believe that this LGBTQ+ representation was very genuine and realistic. However, everyone’s story can be different so I understand how some may think that Aki’s thinking is completely wrong, or they didn’t connect to her at all. In my opinion I believe this story to be beautifully written story with complex and realistic characters and plot. If I am not mistaken I also believe this is an own voice novel, I am not completely sure if the author identifies as bisexual or not but I do know that she has a wife, which makes the story that much more authentic and real.
“‘It was so obvious! I didn’t say anything new.’
Dad chuckled. ‘It’s obvious to you, because that’s how you see the world, but it’s not obvious to everyone else until you persuade them to look at it that way, too.'”
I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book start to finish but one of my favorite parts of the book was actually the end, when everything started fitting together. This story is more character than plot driven, but nearing the end of the story all of the loose ends are tied up. Even if conflicts weren’t completely resolved we still had a sense of a good and satisfying ending. There was also a debate scene and it was just so well written. I absolutely love debates and anything that deals with political or social issues so I was super excited about this scene.
“It could be our own private universe.”
All in all I truly believe that this story will stay with me for a very long time. It’s a story that can resonate with everyone because everyone has experienced what Aki’s going through in some kind of way. We have experienced first love, questioning who we are, fear that people will not understand or accept us, passion for causes that resonate in us, loss of someone important in your life, and new friendships. If you are thinking of trying out an LGBTQ+ book for the first time or the millionth time, I would highly recommend you read this one as soon as possible.