Review: The Exact Opposite of Okay

the exact opposite of okay
Ok let’s talk about this book I read. Hahaha. That’s hilarious. This is a book blog; how often is it that I talk about anything else?

Anyhow. The Exact Opposite of Okay is Laura Steven’s debut and it’s been getting a lot of attention, for more reasons I suspect than it’s incredibly lush cover. I mean sure, that’s what caught my eye but not everybody is as much of a book magpie as I am, I know this. The point is, this book has been generating a lot of buzz since last year and its not even published until March and hello this is me we’re talking about here: obviously I wanted to get right on that bandwagon.

I’m super glad that I did. For sure.

There’s a lot of YA out there at the moment that’s tackling The Bigger Things and I am so glad. Words are important and books are important and growing up can be hard guys and it’s so important to tell these kinds of stories, stories that are relatable to – that make you feel less alone – and that tackle things like racism and sexism and homophobia and all the other things that are wrong with this still ever so fucked up world (yikes, that’s swearing), stories that are diverse and relevant and that have a message that we need to think about and act upon. Let’s tell these stories where it counts you know – let’s aim them at the people wo really have a chance to make a difference to the future because they are the future (and also people like me who still unashamedly read all the YA fiction aged 34 and 9/12).

The Exact Opposite of Okay is one of those books. IT’S SO IMPORTANT GUYS, REALLY. & it’s relevant and yet relatable to also. It tackles slut-shaming and misogyny and  revenge porn and victim-blaming and double standards and all of these things that really are not talked about enough, and you know what else it is? It is sex positive in a way I’m not sure I’ve seen before, not in books of this genre and perhaps not really ever and I loved that about it.

Let’s talk about how sex is a thing that it is absolutely ok to be having lots of if that’s what you want to be doing even if you are *gasp* a girl and if having sex is a thing you enjoy and a thing you do want to have lots of then *high five* and that is a thing that needs to be talked about because there’s still such a cloud over it, it’s still such a taboo and it is still – even when you’re grown up – very much seen as a Thing For Men, like being a girl that likes sex is a thing that shouldn’t be talked about.

The Exact Opposite of Okay turns all of that on its head and it made me happy. 

It's been described as a feminist firecracker and I think it actually kind of might be.

So what exactly is it about you may ask.

I shall tell you.

It’s  about Izzy. Izzy is a teenager. She wants to be a screenwriter, she lives with her Grandmother (her parents were both killed in an accident when she was small), and spends most of her time hanging out with her two best friends. And she likes sex.

When compromising photos of her are leaked, via a spiteful website set up anonymously, online, everything starts to fall apart – it is the exact opposite of okay and Izzy finds herself sort of caught: she’s not ashamed of who she is and what she does but that doesn’t mean she wants her naked photos on the internet either and it’s hard to be comfortable in your own skin when whispers of ‘whore’ follow you wherever you go. It’s ainful to read sometimes because IZZY HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG. She had sex with two boys – both of age and both consenting – and she placed her trust in the wrong place and in what world does that make her deserving of what follows? Well, in this world apparently and isn’t that just the worst

Steven has done an excellent job in making Izzy funny and clever, headstrong and brave, awkward and loyal and vulnerable – she’s made her a regular teenager; I think everybody who reads this book will recognise a piece of themselves in Izzy and somehow that makes the injustices she faces hit harder. Izzy’s just a regular kid. It’s the very definition of unfair.
These things happen though don’t they? They happen every day and sure not always to these extremes , but still, girls all over will be called a slut and then have to watch as guys are fist-bumped and celebrated for the exact same things that they’re being bullied for; or they’ll be called a pricktease if they don’t want to go too far, or if they dress in a certain way and don’t want to do anything at all (damned if you do, damned if you don’t and ain’t that the truth because it seems to be an age old thing, it was the same when I was at school and it’s the same now – girls fall into one of two categories, you’re either a slut or you’re frigid and the real killer? Both of those things are derogatory); or they’ll get their bra straps pinged or boys will look up their skirts like it’s their right and they’ll be subjected to comment after comment based purely on their appearance and they’ll be forced to just accept it because that’s just how it is. Boys will be boys and we still live in the dark ages where people still act like all of this is okay.

Spoiler alert: no.

Laura Steven challenges all of this in a way that makes sense, in a way that makes you sit up and take note, in a way that makes you realise that whilst this is a work of fiction, this stuff is happening everywhere all of the time and it is the exact opposite of okay and I just think that is so so important. The  Scarlet Letter was written in the 1800’s oh my God. How is this even still a thing?

It also really tackles the whole Entitled White Guy trope and the very idea of The Friend Zone. Seriously, it is such a long time since I felt such disdain for a character because there’s a boy in this book who is such an absolute asshat. Wow, I hate him so hard. So again with the not shying away from the important issues: everyone knows an entitled white guy amirite? That guy that thinks you owe him something because he was nice to you, or because you were nice to him. Everyone knows him, and everyone wants to tell him to do one and I love how this is handled in this book. I love it.

Also Izzy’s best friend Ajita? IS AMAZING. That is all.

The book is written as a series of blog posts by Izzy that she’s complied into a book after the fact, with little notes added by Izzy as she goes through afterwards and edits which I liked a lot for the most part and whilst it’s tackling some pretty heavy subjects, it never makes you feel bogged down. It’s refreshingly honest and it made me so angry and sometimes also pretty sad but you know another thing? It made me laugh. It would be good, I think, to get this book on school curriculums – this book has a message that needs spreading far and wide and it should be read, not just by girls so that they know that THEY DID NOTHING WRONG but also by boys, so they check themselves before they share that nude or throw a temper tantrum because that girl who’s being nice to them doesn’t actually want to have sex with them. It’s a conversation that should be had, I think, at that level and it would make for interesting classroom debate.

So, what did I not like?  I pretty much liked it all actually, although, and I AM SO TOTALLY NIT PICKING HERE, the book is set in America but Laura Steven is a Brit and sometimes that felt pretty obvious. I mean I get it had to be set in America due to revenge porn being illegal in the UK, but still, Izzy felt British to me, there was dialogue and the odd turn of phrase and certain references that felt very English and at odds with the American setting and occasionally that jarred a little. I wonder if Americans reading the story would notice in the same way? Not a criticism as such, but an observation. I also maybe found Izzy’s constant humour a little too much sometimes,  I get it’s who she is and I understand where it comes from but sometimes it didn’t ring true and certainly at the start of the book it felt a little try-hard. it did fade out a little as the story developed but you know, it was a thing that I noticed. Those are the most minor of things though in a book that I really hope is going to go places. It’s a strong debut and I liked it a whole lot.