Although I’ve read what feels like an abundance of YA novels featuring gay male protagonists, I’ve only read maybe three books featuring bisexual female protagonists. And I’ve read all three of them in the past three months. I’m pleased that books are finally being released with bisexual main characters, but it feels like it’s been a long time coming. Thankfully there’s been a push for diversity by avid readers and passionate writers, and I believe that’s influencing the bookish community in the best possible ways. It’s opened my eyes to see how much of what I was reading was featuring cishet protagonists, and it’s time to change that.
As someone who identifies as bisexual – which you can hear more about in this post – there’s nothing I want more than to see myself in more of what I read. But it’s not just about what I want. People who are still trying to figure out who they are need YA fiction to show them that being any and every sexuality is valid, and just because our world is heteronormative and can be cruel and invalidate who you are, it doesn’t mean you’re any less important or any less loved. How you choose to define yourself, whether that be with a label or with who you choose to love, matters. You matter.
For a long time, living in my somewhat religious, conservative family, I didn’t think I was allowed to be anything other than straight, so I never questioned it. It wasn’t until I read The Flywheel by Erin Gough that I even realised there were YA novels written about queer people. Queer girls. I’d just turned 16 and I was questioning my sexuality when I stumbled across this book, and it changed my life for the better. I’d never had strict expectations with myself about who I had to be with or who I could fall in love with (I kept this to myself), and so reading The Flywheel allowed me to view the world in a completely new way. I didn’t have to pretend to be someone I wasn’t.
It’s been a long journey trying to find a label that I’m comfortable with, coming out to my friends, and normalising saying that I have a girlfriend when it comes up in conversation, but it all started with reading queer YA novels that told me who I am is more than okay. It’s brilliant. Never let anyone tell you you’re worthless or that your sexuality is invalid.
Ultimately, this post is a celebration of bisexuality in YA fiction, featuring one of the best novels with a bisexual protagonist that I’ve ever read. At the bottom of this post is a list of books with bisexual main characters, and I encourage you to go and read some of them, and also comment what other books I can add to it!
While we still have a long way to go and we still need more YA novels featuring bisexual main characters, I love the way our bookish community has rallied around #OwnVoices authors and are supporting queer writers that produce books that are inspiring, informative, or just help us feel a little less alone.
You are not alone. You are loved. You matter.
Our Own Private Universe – book review
Our Own Private Universe is the book I’ve been waiting for. When I heard about it, I knew it would be something I’d be interested in reading, but I didn’t know just how much this book would impact me, and how much I would love it. As someone who identifies as bisexual, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book. I haven’t come across many YA novels with bisexual protagonists, but this is by far the best one I’ve ever read, and I don’t even know if I have the words to describe what this book means to me, but I’m going to try anyway. It was spectacularly raw and realistic, and it talked so openly about being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community and also being religious, sex between two females, and being honest about who you are not only to those around you if it’s safe to do so, but also being honest to yourself. Our Own Private Universe was simply phenomenal.
One of the reasons why I loved this novel so much was that I saw a lot of myself in Aki, and not just because we both identified as bisexual. Aki, too, questions her sexuality and whether bisexuality is the label that accurately describes how she feels, especially questioning herself as she enters her first relationship with a girl. Honestly, it was like looking into a mirror. I’m currently in my first relationship with a girl. Although my beliefs align more with Buddhism, my family is Christian. And there are some days when I question whether ‘bisexual’ is the right label for me. All those things contributed to why I felt so connected to Aki, and feeling as though she saw into my soul was definitely a big contributing factor as to why I adored this book so much.
I thought I’d read some pretty cute f/f romance stories, but none of them compared to the feels Our Own Private Universe gave me. The romance between Aki and Christa was passionate and intense and unbelievably swoon-worthy, and I loved reading about the sweet and sexy moments they shared. Their relationship was definitely the main plot of the narrative and while some people might have felt unsatisfied by a novel focussing so intensely on the romance, it was definitely the highlight of the novel and I honestly don’t feel like it was missing anything. The romance itself was so fleshed-out and well-developed that I never felt as though the pacing was too slow or uninteresting. I couldn’t have wished for a more fulfilling read.
Something that this novel should be commended on is the way it discussed safe sex between two girls, and how Aki researched this. As someone who used to identify as heterosexual simply because of the expectations placed on me by not only society, but also my family, I wasn’t overly concerned by the lack of discussion of sex between same-sex couples in school. But now that I’m in a relationship with a girl, I realise how uneducated I am, and reading Our Own Private Universe highlighted how naive I’ve been. I honesty felt like Aki was so brave for researching safe sex and going to a health clinic to get supplies, and I loved how this aspect was written about so openly and genuinely. And Aki is right — if you’re ready to have sex, you’re ready to talk about protection and having safe sex maturely.
One of the topics that has been discussed a lot recently is the inclusion of sex in YA fiction, and to what extent it should be written about. Our Own Private Universe goes into detail about sex between Aki and Christa, but not in an erotic way — just in a way that told it openly and honestly. And this is the way sex in YA should be written about. Robin Talley didn’t skirt around the edges or shy away, but instead wrote about safe sex in such a candid way that made me realise that this is what we need more of in YA. So many authors are scared of writing about sex in YA, especially queer sex, but some teenagers do have sex, and what we read should reflect that. Just because a novel writes about sex, it doesn’t mean that it’s erotica or should be banned from libraries. We need more books like Our Own Private Universe.
Another aspect I absolutely loved in this novel was the struggle of coming out to your family, and how this was written about. Anyone that hasn’t had to come out to their parents might feel frustrated at characters going to extreme lengths to not be suspected of being anything other than heterosexual, but like Aki in the beginning of the novel, I haven’t told my family I’m bisexual.* In that way, her fear and worry accurately reflected my own, but at the same time, her journey to being open about who she was made me feel like I now have the courage to do the same. Her journey was truly inspirational and it makes me feel as though I can be who I am unashamedly. This is exactly the novel I needed in my life right now.
*At the time of writing this, I hadn’t come out to my family. However, about a week ago, I came out to my mum (accidentally, and I wasn’t planning on doing it that way). She didn’t take it too well, but hopefully she’ll come to understand that this is who I am, and who I am hasn’t changed simply because she knows I’m bi. But that’s a story for another time.
Ultimately, Our Own Private Universe is a stunning novel that realistically and candidly portrays a relationship between two bisexual girls who are questioning how they really identify and trying to figure out how they can be who they truly are in a religious, heteronormative space. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and if you’re anything like me, this book will change your life. I can’t even begin to express the difference it made to mine.
YA novels with bisexual characters…
Here’s that list I promised you! The titles that are written in bold are ones that I’ve read, and the others have been recommended to me or were sourced from Goodreads. If any of these books don’t fit into this category or have been called out for being problematic or harmful, please let me know! And I’d love more suggestions to add to this list.
- The Flywheel
- Labyrinth Lost
- Far From You
- Not Otherwise Specified
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (bisexuality not explicitly labelled)
- Everything Leads to You
- Carry On (bisexuality not explicitly labelled)
- The Bane Chronicles
- Radio Silence
Have you read many books featuring bisexual characters? Do you think you’ll be picking up Our Own Private Universe? What are your favourite LGBTQIA+ novels? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Harlequin Books Australia for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review!
Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley
Fifteen year-old Aki 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.