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Our Own Private Universe
     

Our Own Private Universe

3.0 1
by Robin Talley
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/05/2016
Fifteen-year-old Aki Simon is a preacher’s daughter, a talented musician, “the black girl with braids,” and bisexual—though not everyone knows about that last item. Aki has never had a girlfriend or boyfriend, but during a youth group trip to Mexico, she finally allows herself to explore. Sparks fly when she meets a girl named Christa, even though Christa is closeted about her own interest in girls. Aki, meanwhile, worries about coming out to her father while dealing with her older brother, Drew, who plans to drop out of college and enlist in the army; both situations have the potential to cause conflict with their father, and they also serve as neat parallels to larger conversations within their church about war and gay marriage. Talley (As I Descended) realistically explores first love and first sexual experiences against a backdrop of faith, family, prejudice, and social justice. Though these themes aren’t explored as deeply as Aki and Christa’s conflicted and increasingly steamy relationship, it’s a valuable portrait of teenage girls learning to be honest with themselves and others. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jim McCarthy, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Jan.)
School Library Journal
02/01/2017
Gr 9 Up—Aki has always been a perfect preacher's daughter—responsible, polite, safe. This summer, though, things will be different. Aki will be traveling with a group of teens and chaperones (her father included) to help build a new church in rural Mexico. Aki is hoping for a distraction after being rejected by the music program of her dreams. She finds it in Christa. Both girls want a simple summer romance, but Aki is out as bisexual only to her best friend, and Christa is terrified that her parents will find out that she likes girls. Talley does an excellent job of portraying how a closeted relationship can start to unravel despite genuine affection, and the depiction of Christa's and Aki's emotional lives seems honest and real. There are sometimes too many side plots, such as sudden revelations about Aki's long-deceased uncle, but they don't overwhelm the central themes. And even with her infatuation, Aki never becomes singularly focused. She devotes energy to her brother and to conversations about the upcoming convention, where their church will take official stances on topics such as same-sex marriage and foreign aid. Particularly important is the novel's information, so commonly ignored, on safe sex between two women, which is effortlessly worked into the narrative. VERDICT 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.—Amy Diegelman, formerly at Vineyard Haven Public Library, MA
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-11-23
A diverse story of first times and finding oneself. Black 15-year-old Aki feels as though everything about her life is hypothetical: she's "a hypothetical musician…a hypothetical Christian [and] a hypothetical teenager"—and, she feels, hypothetically bisexual. She's not sure about everything, but she does know she's ready to start acting on her "hypothetical" sexuality, even as she is hesitant to step out of the closet. When she signs up, along with her 19-year-old brother and her youth minister father, for a monthlong service trip to Mexico for Holy Life church youth groups, she and her best friend make a pact: "hook up with someone…three times" before the end of the trip. When she sparks with white, artsy, pansexual, and deeply closeted Christa, Aki is beyond eager to dive into new and exciting firsts. Occasional Forever…-like didacticism slips in now and again, with teen characters educating one another on intricacies of LGBTQ identities and attractions as well as researching and seeking out dental dams and other protection. However, these moments provide welcome information and discussions rarely seen in books for teens (or in public school sex education). Aki's first-person narration rings true, and her simultaneous comfort with and concerns about her sexuality—and other parts of her identity—feel realistic and authentic. Her faith is portrayed positively, with respect and nuance not often seen in books for teens generally, let alone one with a queer protagonist. An important and heartfelt contribution to contemporary teen lit about queer women: hopeful, realistic, and romantic, Talley's newest is sure to satisfy. (Fiction. 14-18)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780373211982
Publisher:
Harlequin
Publication date:
01/31/2017
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
99,151
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Our Own Private Universe


By Robin Talley

Harlequin Enterprises Limited

Copyright © 2017 Robin Talley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-373-21198-2


CHAPTER 1

THE STARS ABOVE me danced in the cool, black Mexico sky. So I started dancing, too.

My body buzzed with the lingering vibrations from all those hours of flying. The music poured through my headphones and straight into my soul. I twirled, I soared, my head tipped back as I watched the stars.

I'd never seen a sky like this one. All my life I'd been surrounded by cities. Lights had shone on every side of me, drowning out the world.

I never realized that before. Not until I came here.

Here, in the middle of nowhere, all the light came from above. The sky was pure black with a thousand dots of white. Millions, actually, if I remembered Earth Science correctly. The air above looked like one of those lush, incomprehensible oil paintings my mother was always staring at whenever she dragged us to a museum back home.

I wanted to float up among those stars.

Nothing to think about. Nothing to do but soak it in and watch them shine.

The song's beat pulsed through me. It was my favorite — well, one of my favorites. It was the one I'd never told anyone about because I didn't want to deal with the looks I'd get.

Listening to it without dancing was impossible.

With my headphones on and my eyes on the sky, my body in constant motion, I was oblivious to the world on the ground. So I didn't know how long Lori had been trying to get my attention before I felt her sharp tug on my arm.

"Hey!" I lowered my gaze to meet my best friend's. She winced.

"You don't need to yell." Lori rubbed her ear. "I'm right here."

"Sorry." I pulled off my headphones.

"You always shout when you wear those. One day you're going to do it in the middle of church and get kicked out."

"I never wear headphones in church. Mom would slaughter me."

"Yeah, well, I'm going to slaughter you right now if you keep acting so antisocial. What are you doing out here all by yourself?"

"Oh, uh." I glanced back across the darkness toward the courtyard I'd abandoned. The house where the party was being held was on the far edge of town, backing up into the empty hillside. Behind me I could hear the sounds of voices and laughter and faint faraway music floating out over the walls. "Sorry. I guess I forgot."

Lori laughed. "You're lucky you're hot, because you can be a total weirdo when you want to be. Come on, we should mingle."

Right. I was supposed to be trying.

I followed Lori across the hills and through the courtyard's tall, swinging wooden door. We passed a few people gathered along the back wall and went up to a table where some chips were set out next to flickering decorative candles.

At least half the party was gathered around the table, talking and rubbing their eyes. We hadn't all taken the same flights, but everyone had been on at least two planes today, and most of the group looked like they still felt dizzy.

Someone had set up their phone to play music through its little speaker. The melodies were tiny against the open dirt and dotted sky beyond the courtyard walls.

I said hi to the people I knew from church. Lori chattered at everyone, flirting with the guys and fiddling with the bracelet that dangled from her wrist. It was one I'd made. Our allowances were pathetic, so Lori and I made jewelry to sell at school.

I wasn't sure if saying hi to people and following Lori around officially counted as trying. Maybe it was something close, though. Something closer than dancing by myself under the stars.

But, God, those stars. I had to fight not to let my gaze drift back out into the open air.

Trying wasn't optional, though. Not this summer.

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.

I was a hypothetical musician (I hadn't played in more than a year). I was a hypothetical Christian (it wasn't as though I'd tried any other options). Despite the age on my birth certificate, I was essentially a hypothetical teenager, since real teenagers did way more exciting stuff than I ever did.

But as of this summer, there was one particular theory that was taking up way more space in my brain than I had to spare.

To be honest, my theory was mostly about sex. But it applied to life in general, too. If I wanted to have an interesting life — which I did — then there was no point sitting around debating everything in my head on a constant loop.

If I wanted my life to change, then I had to do something. Or at least try.

And it was now or never. This summer, the summer we'd come to Mexico, was the time to test out my hypothesis.

The problem was, I was really good at sitting around and debating things in my head. Trying stuff? Actually doing it? That wasn't really my jam.

Lori was different, though. She wasn't any better than me at doing things, but she sure loved trying.

"We've got to go to the welcome party tonight," she'd whispered to me that afternoon, seconds after the bus dropped us off at the church. "How else are we going to meet all the new guys?"

"I am absolutely not in the mood for a party," I whispered back as I helped her haul her stuff inside. I'd already decided that, due to jet lag, my theory could wait at least one more day for testing. "I'm all woozy. Like I'm still on that plane, the one that kept shaking around."

It had taken three different planes followed by a four-hour bus ride to get from home, in Maryland, to this tiny town somewhere way outside Tijuana. I'd never flown before, and now that we were on steady land all I wanted to do was put on my pajamas, go to bed and sleep until noon.

Except it turned out we didn't have beds. Just sleeping bags lined up on the cement floor of an old church.

I didn't have pajamas, either. The airline had lost my suitcase.

So I gave up fighting it. My theory was getting tested, jet lag or no jet lag.

"The new guys are going to be incredible," Lori had whispered to me as we walked to the party with the others.

"They're going to be exactly the same as the guys we already know," I whispered back.

"Not true. These guys are way cooler. Much less boring."

"How could you possibly know that?"

"Look, I'm an optimist, okay?"

For the next month, the youth groups from our church and two others would be working together on a volunteer project. All Lori cared about was that we'd be spending four weeks with guys who weren't the same seven guys we'd been hanging out with since we were kids.

I didn't see what was so bad about the guys at our church. Sure, most of them thought of me as a dorky, preacher's- daughter, kid-sister type, but, well, that was pretty accurate. And I'd never been great at meeting people. I wasn't shy or anything. It was only that sometimes, with new people, I didn't know how exactly to start a conversation. I liked to listen first. You could learn a lot about someone that way.

The welcome party was at one of our host families' houses. The local minister's, maybe. But all the adults — my dad and the other ministers and chaperones, plus our Mexican host families — spent the whole time in the living room, which meant the forty-or-so of us from the youth groups had the outdoor courtyard to ourselves. That was a good thing, since whenever the adults were around I could hardly understand what anyone was saying. I'd gotten an A in freshman year Spanish, so I thought I'd be able to get by in Mexico all right, but we hadn't even made it out of the Tijuana airport before I'd found out the truth. The woman at customs had asked me a question and the only part I understood was por favor. So I stared at her with my head tilted helplessly until Dad whispered for me to unzip my purse so the woman could check it for bombs or whatever.

Along the back wall of the courtyard, where the adults couldn't see them from inside, a handful of people had started dancing. I turned back to Lori and stole a chip out of her hand. She pushed her long, curly blond hair out of her face and raised her eyebrows at me.

"See, aren't you glad we didn't skip this?" Lori lowered her voice. "The guys on this trip are already way more interesting than our usual crowd."

She meant that they were older. Lori and I were the only two sophomores who'd been allowed to come on this trip. The others were mostly going to be juniors or seniors in the fall. Some, like my brother, Drew, were already in college. Lori and I got special permission because my dad was our church's youth minister, and he and Lori's aunt Miranda were both chaperones on this trip.

"Why are you so into meeting new guys, anyway?" I asked Lori.

"I don't know. I just want to expand my horizons. Have something new, something that's all mine. You know what I mean?" I nodded. It sounded like Lori was testing a theory of her own.

We fell into silence. A new song had come on, one of the big songs of the summer that had been playing in every store back home for weeks. Half the group was up and dancing. One of the guys from our church and his girlfriend were swaying slowly with their arms wrapped around each other, even though the song was a fast one.

"Do you want to go dance?" Lori asked.

I gave her a weird look instead of answering. Lori knew very well I never danced in front of people.

I tilted my head back to get another look at those stars. They swam dreamily in the sky.

"Stop looking up so much," Lori whispered. "Your neck is already freakishly long. People are going to think you have no face."

"My neck is not freakishly long," I said, but I lowered my chin anyway.

Two white girls I didn't know were half dancing, half standing in the darkest corner of the courtyard. One girl had hair so short you could see her scalp and leather cuffs with silver buttons on both wrists. The other girl had dark hair that curled around her ears, heart-shaped sunglasses perched on her head, a tiny silver hoop in her nose and a quiet smile that made me want to smile, too.

"Aki, you're staring," Lori said.

"Sorry." I looked away from the girls.

"Do you like one of them?"

"No."

"It's okay if you do. You can tell me."

"I don't. I was distracted, that's all."

Last year I told Lori I thought I might be bi. Ever since, whenever she saw me looking at a girl, she asked if I liked her. Lori didn't get that sometimes it was fun just to notice people without having to think about whether you liked them or not.

The girl with the sunglasses turned toward Lori and me. Oh my God. She wasn't that far away. Had she heard us? I was going to kill Lori.

The girl was still smiling, though.

She was cute, but she made me nervous. I wasn't used to looking at girls that way. Being bi, just like the rest of my life, had always been mostly hypothetical. I scanned the crowd, trying to look for a guy who was equally cute.

"Is there anyone here you might like?" I asked Lori.

"Maybe." She nodded toward a super-tall blond guy drinking from one of the frosted glasses our host family had set out. "What do you think of him?"

I studied the guy. He had to have been a senior, at least. He had a T-shirt with a beer company logo and he was laughing loud and sharp at something his friend had said, his mouth open so wide I could see the fillings in his back teeth.

"He looks like a tool," I said.

"Whatever, you think everybody looks like a tool."

The girl with the sunglasses was coming toward us. She was even cuter up close.

Oh, God.

"Look who it is," Lori whispered.

As though I hadn't already seen her. As though she wouldn't see Lori whispering and think we were incredibly obvious and immature.

"Hi." Somehow, the girl was now standing in front of us, her head tilted at a startlingly attractive angle. "You guys seem cool. I'm Christa."

I had no idea what to say. I shoved a chip in my mouth.

"Thanks." Lori glanced over at me. "I'm Lori."

"Hi, Lori." The girl turned toward me, expectant, but I was still chomping on my tortilla chip. I probably looked like the biggest tool in Mexico.

But Christa didn't seem bothered. "What church do you guys go to?"

"Holy Life in Silver Spring," Lori said. I swallowed, nearly choking. Lori ignored me. "What about you?"

"Holy Life in Rockville," Christa said, her eyes still on me. Then she turned back to Lori. "Does your friend talk?"

Lori nudged me.

"Um. Hey." I was positive there were chip crumbs on my face. Would it look weirder to leave them there or to wipe them away? What if I was just paranoid and there weren't chip crumbs on my face, and it looked like I was wiping my face for no reason like a total loser? "I mean, hi."

My face must've been bright red. Why was Christa still looking at me?

"What happened to your girlfriend?" Lori asked, tilting her head toward where Christa had been dancing before.

"She went out around the back to smoke." Christa lowered her voice and added, "And she's not my girlfriend."

"Smoking is revolting," I said, because I didn't want to say anything about whether Christa did or didn't have a girlfriend. Or whether she might want one.

"For real, right?" Christa said. "I try to tell her, but some people, you know?"

She smiled at me. I smiled back. There was a pink streak in her shoulder-length hair that I hadn't noticed before. She was wearing jeans and a yellow tank top, and her sneakers had red hearts drawn on the sides with a marker. I'd never known it was possible for a person to look as cute as Christa did.

"I'm gonna go get more salsa," Lori said.

I shook my head at her frantically. I couldn't do this by myself.

Lori only grinned and left. Christa stayed where she was. Damn it.

"So, what's your name?" Christa asked me.

"Aki."

"That's pretty."

It was so hard not to giggle. But I managed to keep my face relatively composed as my insides jumped for joy.

"It's short for Akina," I explained.

"Akina." I liked how she said my name. She pronounced it slowly, as though it was some spicy, forbidden word. "That's even prettier."

Was this flirting? I'd never really flirted before. Sure, I'd hung out with guys, but they never told me my name was pretty. Instead they made stupid jokes and then looked really happy when I laughed.

Was it even okay to flirt with a girl here? If someone saw us, would they be able to tell we were flirting from across the courtyard? Or did flirting just look like talking?

And if Christa was flirting, what made her think I wanted to flirt back? Was it something about how I looked? What I was wearing? Did she know I wanted her to flirt with me?

Did I want her to?

If she was really gay, she probably had a girlfriend back home. I didn't know if I was ready to have a girlfriend. I'd never even had a boyfriend for longer than a couple of weeks.

"Wait ... Aki?" Christa cocked her head, as if she was studying me. "Aki from Silver Spring. I've heard about you."

"Yeah?"

Oh.

My stomach tensed. This cute girl, the first girl ever to flirt with me, knew exactly who I was.

Of course she did.

I was the black girl with braids. I was Pastor Benny's daughter. Everyone in all of the Holy Life community knew who I was. I was one of a kind.

But then she said, "You're like a really talented musician, aren't you?"

And my stomach didn't know whether to twist tighter or do flips in the air.

"I. Um." I didn't know what to say.

"I've definitely heard about you." The smile spread wider across Christa's face. "You play a bunch of instruments, right? And you write music and you sing? My friend went to a service at your church where the whole choir sang something you wrote. He said it was gorgeous and that everyone cheered and talked about how amazing you were."

That had been during Advent in eighth grade. The piece we performed was the same one I'd used for my audition for MHSA. Even thinking about it made me want to throw up.

But this girl. God, this girl was so amazing.

And she was staring at me as though she thought I was amazing, too.

So I nodded. "Yeah, that's me. It's not that many instruments, though. Mainly I play guitar. And a little piano."

Okay. So that wasn't totally true.

But it wasn't really a lie, either. It was just an inaccurate verb tense. I used to do that stuff, after all. If I'd said played instead of play it would've been a 100 percent accurate statement.

Either way, it totally didn't count as lying.

Either way, I was glad I said it the way I did when Christa beamed at me in response.

"Oh, wow! That's so cool." Christa nodded over and over again. "It's so neat to meet someone else who's seriously into artistic stuff. I'm not anywhere near your level, but I'm an artist, too. I do photography sometimes."

"You do?" I seized on the chance to talk about something that wasn't me and music. "What kind of photography?"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley. Copyright © 2017 Robin Talley. Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet 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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Our Own Private Universe 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
book_junkee 22 days ago
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**