Series: Izzy O'Neill #1
Published by HarperTeen
Published on June 11th 2019 (first published March 8th 2018)
Genres: Contemporary, Girls & Women, Young Adult
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Bitingly funny and shockingly relevant, The Exact Opposite of Okay is a bold, brave, and necessary read for fans of Louise O'Neill and Jennifer Mathieu.
Eighteen-year-old Izzy O’Neill knows exactly who she is—a loyal friend, an aspiring comedian, and a person who believes that milk shakes and Reese’s peanut butter cups are major food groups. But after she’s caught in a compromising position with the son of a politician, it seems like everyone around her is eager to give her a new label: slut.
Izzy is certain that the whole thing will blow over and she can get back to worrying about how she doesn’t reciprocate her best friend Danny’s feelings for her and wondering how she is ever going to find a way out of their small town. Only it doesn’t.
And while she’s used to laughing her way out of any situation, as she finds herself first the center of high school gossip and then in the middle of a national scandal, it's hard even for her to find humor in the situation.
Izzy may be determined not to let anyone else define who she is, but that proves easier said than done when it seems like everyone has something to say about her.
I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I love the film Easy A, starring Emma Stone as a high schooler who allows boys to ruin her reputation by claiming they had sex with her in return for gift cards. So I was intrigued to read a book where slut-shaming took centre stage via revenge porn, and to add extra conflict, because it involved a VIP’s son, it became a national scandal.
Except there is one major difference between Easy A and The Exact Opposite of Okay. Olive didn’t have sex, while Izzy definitely does. And it’s not like it’s Izzy’s first time, or her only time that night. Izzy is a bone fide slut, and that’s where I am so conflicted about this book.
Because Izzy’s right: she’s not hurting anyone, she’s just having some fun. But then again, she’s only 18 and has had more sexual encounters than hot dinners at this point. But then again, she’s eighteen, legally an adult, and can do whatever she wants. Except that we all know that society still believes there is something wrong with young women (especially teens) owning their sexuality, enjoying sex, and having casual sexual encounters. You can see why I’m so torn about how I feel about this. I don’t want to victim blame and say that ‘íf you don’t send nudes, you can’t have them exposed’ but Izzy does do some really stupid things in the course of conflict. But, that is absolutely no reason for anyone to slut shame her (because there is no reason for slut shaming, in case anyone needs it spelt out). Izzy tries to defend herself by asking if a guy slept with two different girls in one night, would that make him a slut? This is where her defence fails for me, because I wholeheartedly answer YES to that.
Even with all of my internal conflict about Izzy’s attitude, this book is enjoyable in some parts. Izzy styles herself as a skit-writing comedian, although most of her humour seems to be based in simple outrageous exaggeration. We never actually see any of her comedy skits, and the screenplay she submits for a national competition is so forgettable I’m struggling to remember if we learn anything about it at all. Plus, she’s a meme-stealer. It’s all very well when a real life friend quotes some meme as an inside joke because we know it’s not original, but Izzy tries to pass a few memes off as original thoughts and I’m not sure how I should feel about that in a book. If the power of her humour is that she’s fresh and original, this just demonstrates that she’s not. Also, the over-exaggeration didn’t always come off as funny, but sometimes as desperation to think of something funny to write. However, sometimes it completely nailed everything it was going for (kinda like Izzy lol wassup girl?).
I love watching Izzy’s relationships with her best friend Anjita, her grandmother, and her crush (but to be honest, mostly for what they did for Izzy, not for what she did for them). The relationship with her Nice Guy TM other best friend Danny isn’t half as well developed as any of these. It begins in a weird place and never develops beyond that, feeling forced and making predictions about his character too easy. In contrast, Izzy is so self-involved and so self-pitying (she reminds us that she’s a tragic orphan nudge nudge wink wink every few chapters) that she’s utterly oblivious to what her best friends are both going through. You can figure out from the first few encounters with her friends exactly what is going on with them, but Izzy doesn’t figure it out until much, much later. She styles herself as quick-witted and smart, but she’s so oblivious when it comes to her friends.
I’ve read some reviews that mentioned this book is by a British author and was originally set in Britain, but since revenge porn became illegal in the UK, the author had to transplant the location and moved it to America. Some other readers had issues with the Americanisms, but as an Australian who is over-exposed to both British and American culture, I didn’t actually notice anything overtly wrong with this. I legitimately thought this was an American story set in America, although I did think that the obsession with American diners (where Izzy’s grandmother works) and then the random use of ‘unconvincing medieval lingo’ was a bit weird. Like, 1950s America and sixteenth century England are completely different time periods.
I also liked how the story came to its conclusion. Izzy can’t simply deny that anything ever happened, because part of the issue of her ownership of her sexuality. She has to think up another way of taking charge of this out of control national sex scandal narrative. I like how she did it and I found the conclusion satisfying.
- Izzy owns her sexuality
- Sometimes Izzy is genuinely funny
- Izzy’s relationships with Anjta, Betty, and her crush are totally awesome
- Izzy is a genuine slut
- Sometimes Izzy’s overexaggerating humour doesn’t work
- Izzy’s relationships with other characters isn’t as well developed