Our Own Private Universe, by Robin Talley
This book reveals some of the general problems with Lambda-bait YA novels and with YA romances in general, and does so through its title alone. While bi-racial and bisexual Aki Simon and her new crush/summer fling Crista seek their own private universe, they demonstrate the way that teen infatuations can lead to all kinds of problems, be it allowing opportunities for others to blackmail one based on one’s activities and one’s desire to keep them secret, the sort of deception and sneaking around that gives teenagers a bad reputation, and the way that the book shows a pastor’s daughter who should know better only being concerned on a small set of leftist political concerns and not on larger questions of salvation and righteousness. In reading a book like this, you have to see what is not there as well as what is, and the author’s extremely narrow and biased interest in Christianity only being among the social gospel adherents that are such a plague in contemporary existence means that even when she engages with religious people in a fictional world, they are not religious people who have any understanding of God’s just moral standards and their applicability, but only in leftist political talking points.
The plot of this story is pretty rudimentary. Aki and her best friend Lori talk about their expectations for the summer, which will be spent partly in Mexico and partly in Texas involved with camps and teaching. Aki is not a very sympathetic heroine, being more than a bit of a drama queen, being insecure (something that is at least a relatable flaw), and being intent on exploring her sexuality during the summer, which she does through a clandestine investigation of lesbian sex and sneaking out with Christa to explore it in ways that the author joyfully and vividly describes. Meanwhile, Aki’s friendship with Lori suffers because Lori has been pretending to have an affair with the older and married Carlos in order to seem as cool as Aki is, other students are getting drunk and engaging in acts of vandalism, there are encounters with wild animals, and Aki’s brother is deciding to drop out of school in order to join the military. In a world full of secrets, everyone is lying to each other to pretend to be cooler than they really are even while trying to enjoy the fun of drinking and exploring sexuality that the author assumes is appropriate for teenagers, with a somewhat happy ending when everyone decides to fess up about what is going on.
Ultimately speaking, this novel fails for worldview reasons. Since there is no part of the universe that does not belong to God and that is not subject to God’s laws, including even our own imaginations, this particular book simply fails to account for this reality. Even though the whole course of this novel exists within a context of supposed religious service and with a high degree of interest in institutional politics in the religious denomination the characters are involved in, no one involved (including the pastor’s father) appears to be able to understand the Bible’s position on various matters, including the importance of spiritual warfare and personal morality. Honestly, the sort of religion that is being offered here is not something I appreciate, as the author views the sort of Christianity she can get behind as one which is devoted to debates to encourage leftist beliefs and is entirely absent in biblical understanding or practice. Indeed, it is somewhat shocking given this book’s focus on mainstream Christian youth but there is not a single discussion in this entire book that contains a reference to scripture and its application, or contains an appeal for the clearly troubled young people being portrayed to live according to God’s ways. To do so would have been to darken the mood considerably, but also to demonstrate what this book and so many others like it is sorely missing.