Monday, March 20, 2017

Review and Interview: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley @robin_talley


15-year-old Aki knows she’s bisexual, but she hasn’t had many chances to put it into practice. A summer youth group trip to Mexico seems like the perfect opportunity to start gaining new experiences, and to test her theory that, in order to live an interesting life, she has to stop thinking and start doing. Aki and her best friend Lori (the only one who knows Aki likes girls) make a pact – they will both hook up with someone three times before they have to go home to their regular lives. It seems like it will be an easy feat when Aki meets Christa, who is older, more experienced, and draws Aki in like a magnet. However, she soon discovers some things are easier in theory than in execution, and Aki must grapple with the highs and lows of many “firsts”, her personal identity and beliefs, and how she fits into her religious family and the world around her.

Our Own Private Universe is a thoughtful look at the search for self that comes with adolescence, complicated by the intersection of race, religion, and orientation. As Aki’s church votes to solidify their stance on topics of gay marriage, immigration, healthcare, war, police brutality, and more, budding activist Aki brings the youth group together for a debate, creating a nuanced discussion of social issues that are currently in the national spotlight.Talley’s raw and honest approach to themes of love, lust, uncertainty, and expectations will resonate with anyone who’s ever been a teenager, and in a genre full of sad stories, Our Own Private Universe reassures LGBTQIA+ teens that they can have a happy ending. At 15, Aki doesn’t have it all figured out, but she has a loving, supportive network of friends, family, and community to help her along the way.

Today we welcome Robin for an interview!

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did you want to be something else? 
I always wanted to write, but for a long time I didn’t think writing would be a viable career for me. When I graduated from college with a Literature degree, I got a job working in communications for a nonprofit civil rights organization, which turned out to be awesome. I wound up doing that work, alongside my writing, for fifteen years, and I learned so much from it.
How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?
This totally depends on the book, and it’s changed a lot as I’ve written more of them. For my most recent books, I might spend 2-3 months writing each draft, and usually there are 2-3 drafts before I send it to my editor. After that, there are probably at least another 3 months of revision. So, adding that up, it would range from 7 months to more than a year, depending on the book.
Do you have a schedule of when you write? 
Right now my wife and I have a toddler and I’m at home with the kiddo on weekdays, so I write mainly during her nap times. I also write at night after she goes to bed, and on the weekends whenever I can.
How many books have you written so far? Do you have a favorite? 
I’ve written (and finished) 5 books so far, 4 of which have been published. And I have three works in progress. My favorite book to write was As I Descended, because it was a Macbeth retelling with ghosts, and it was just a ton of fun to spend time in that world (even though I also felt bad, because I had to kill people.)
Do you have a favorite character?
My favorite character that I’ve written has long been, and I think might always be, Sarah from Lies We Tell Ourselves, which was my first published book. I just have so much admiration for Sarah. My heart overflows when I think about her.
Where do you write?  
I have an office at home, and I also do a lot of my writing in the public library in my neighborhood. And I wrote most of my first two books in a variety of D.C. coffee shops. Writing out in public helps me focus, for some reason.
Have you gotten feedback from family about your book(s)? What do they think?
My family thinks it’s pretty awesome that I’m a writer. My parents were both journalists and my sister’s a fellow English major. And my wife is a poet and playwright, and my brother-in-law has an awesome middle grade series called The Virginia Mysteries. So we’re a family full of writers.
What kinds of advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing? 
First and foremost ― read. Read as much as you can, in as many different genres as you can ― fiction and nonfiction; YA, adult and children’s; contemporary, mysteries, fantasy, sci-fi, you name it. The more you read, the better a sense you’ll have of what you like, which will be the best way to learn how you want to write.
Are you working on anything now? 
Right now I’m working on my next book, which I’m really excited about. It’s called Pulp, and it’s about the 1950s publishing phenomenon that was lesbian pulp fiction ― these cheap paperbacks with deliberately tawdry covers that were marketed to men and sold in bus stations for 35 cents a copy. They were f/f romance stories, and a lot of them were written by groundbreaking and amazingly talented lesbian writers. My book is about a closeted 18-year-old in 1955 who’s secretly writing one of these lesbian pulp fiction novels and a modern, out-and-proud lesbian teenager who comes across her book more than 60 years later and becomes obsessed with tracking down what happened to its pseudonymous author. Pulp will be coming out in 2018.
If you could travel anywhere in the world to visit a place so you could use it as a background for a book, where would it be?
I love this question! I’ve never been to Italy, but it would be awesome to go there, and even better if I could use it for book research!
Thanks so much for stopping by today, Robin! It was so great having you here!
Brooke's Review:
I was excited to receive this book for review. I haven't read a lot of YA books diverse in the aspect of sexuality and I really want to try and expand that horizon.

This book touched on so many important aspects teens face. It not only touched on sexuality but also on things such as friendship, healthcare, sex, activism, and religion. So many aspects of the book are relevant to what teens face now in our society. Aki became a relatable role model for teens. The struggle to balance all that life throws at them is overwhelming.

The book also gives us a very diverse cast of characters: black, white, latino, bisexual, pansexual, lesbian. So many different aspects of diversity rolled into one book. It was nice to see this as I do think we need more diversity in our literature.

I will say there is quite a bit of drama in this book. I'm far removed from being a teenager and I do think such drama does truly exist. I just felt like it was overplayed a bit. I also was disappointed in all the time the main character spent worrying about not going to music school but we never really see it addressed outside of her own thoughts and worries. I believed this would become a central part of the book, since it seemed this was who she was for so long. But, alas, it did not.

Overall this was an enjoyable read and one I think younger teens or even upper middle schoolers would relate to and get a lot out of. It shows teens who are not afraid to question who they are and to realize being what mainstream society has deemed "different" is really not that different after all. I applaud the author for reaching outside of the text book YA box and giving us something with a little more depth when it comes to showing diversity in characters.

About the Author:Robin Talley, author of Lies We Tell Ourselves (September 2014), What We Left Behind (October 2015), As I Descended(September 2016), and Our Own Private Universe (January 2017), grew up in Roanoke, Virginia. A Lambda Literary Fellow, Robin now lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice. You can find her on the web at www.robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.

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