REVIEW: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

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The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Length: 355 pages

Release date: 8 March 2018

Amazon UK | Amazon US

Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has…

I expected this book to be feminist. I knew it would be timely. Its core message and activist leanings didn’t surprise me at all. What I didn’t expect was for this book to be so flipping funny. It’s a given that the style (casual, guileless, sometimes flippant) isn’t for everyone, but hell, I had a good time.

I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading a story about a girl who’s slut-shamed by not just her community, but basically the whole Internet–these kinds of things usually scream “make my blood boil” more than “fun experience”–but no reason to lie about it, I did. Not because of the mountain of victim blaming and chauvinism, mind you. But all the other stuff, by which I mean Izzy O’Neill’s infectious optimism, yes please, let’s have more of it.

The Exact Opposite of Okay manages to tread that line of being passionate but not preachy. It’s shocking and revelatory at the same time, so that you think could this really happen? one moment and the next it’s of course this could happen, in fact I’ve seen it happen. I wondered many times over the course of the novel if what I was seeing was really plausible, because I just couldn’t fathom how so many people could be so wrong, but then it’s quite easy to turn to real life and realise that yeah, so many people can be so utterly wrong. And yeah, all the shit that goes down in The Exact Opposite of Okay could probably happen in middle America, no big deal.

“There’s a weird internet phenomenon, born around the same time as BuzzFeed, glorifying sassy older women who work until they’re a hundred years old. Look at them! Throwing shade at snarky regulars and serving day-old coffee grounds to their ruthless managers! So hilarious and inspiring!

But this is the truth. More and more vulnerable old people can’t afford to retire, and so they keep working at grueling service jobs because they simply have to.

U-S-A!

Fine, yes, I know that pinning the whole thing on America is hardly productive. In fact, the author of this book isn’t even American. But as with most books set in the US that deal with social issues, this book has a uniquely American flavour, and Trump’s shadow is always hanging over the storyline, like the nasty crack on your phone screen that you’ve just learned to ignore.

Part of what makes Izzy’s story so effective is how personal it is. Yes, she’s cosmopolitan and open-minded as befits a YA contemporary heroine, but it’s not her goal to start an activist revolution. Far from it. She’s an aspiring screenwriter/comedian living with her grandma since the early death of her parents, trying only to scrape by. While this is the perfect start to the tragic sob-story background that unfortunately turns lots of protagonists into parodies of each other, Izzy doesn’t let it get in the way. She spends the whole book holding her head high, and even when you want to scream at her that it’s okay to feel a tad sorry for herself when she’s drawn the shortest stick in the history of short sticks, you have to admire her gutsiness.

The Exact Opposite of Okay deals with big ideas like societal attitudes towards girls, sex and privacy, but it also deals with a great number of “small” ideas like Nice Guys, creepy school administrators, and when your friend no longer deserves to be your friend. (Hint: when they metaphorically hang, draw and quarter you satisfies the requirements.) These “small” ideas, banal enough that they don’t get nearly the attention as sweeping discussions about sexual harassment, slut shaming and the like, are treated with just as much thoughtfulness as the hot-button issues. And that’s a great thing.

So here we are, in the age of #MeToo, hopefully a watershed moment in gender relations. Time will tell. But whether you’re following the latest news, and regardless of how invested you are in the movement, The Exact Opposite of Okay is still a brilliantly penned novel. Alternately hilarious and rage-inducing when it needs to be either, it’s a compelling, insightful story that also happens to be socially relevant. Don’t miss it.

*Thanks to Egmont Publishing and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*

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