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The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven - Review

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Where did I get it? I bought it at the Northern YA Lit Festival in March, and got it signed by Laura who was there introducing a panel. 

What's it about? Izzy O'Neill is eighteen and in her final year of school. She's an aspiring scriptwriter who can't afford to go to college as she's being brought up by her grandmother after the death of her parents. She has two best friends, Ajita and Danny. Danny is starting to act weird around her, and it becomes clear that he has a crush on Izzy, but she definitely doesn't feel the same way.

Then Izzy goes to a party, where she gets talking to Vaughan, the son of a senator, and has sex with him on a garden bench. She goes inside and gets talking to dishy basketballer Carson, and she has sex with him too. She chats to Vaughan after the party and he sends her a dick pic. She sends him back a nude. 

Then a website appears, calling Izzy a World Class Whore. The details of her sexual encounters are given explicitly, and her phone has been hacked and the nude photos have been stolen. All of a sudden, she's a pariah at school, whispered about in the corridors and abandoned by her friends. Then the story goes global and everything goes from bad to worse.

The book is, in the main, extremely positive. There's lots of good messages given, like the fact that Izzy shouldn't feel ashamed for having sex or for sending a nude picture, and to do with Danny complaining about being "friend zoned" (as she's totally within her rights to not feel the same way about him as he feels about her). Izzy is funny and fiesty, and very irreverent. I think for a teenager, this would be a good book with overt feminist overtones; I like the messages that were given out, mostly. 

I didn't understand why the book was set in the US. Laura is British and a lot of the phrasing seemed more British English than American. The only reason I can think of is that so-called "revenge porn" (sharing of someone else's intimate photos) is now illegal in this country, but it isn't in most of the US. I get that setting it in the UK would have meant the story would have to change, because it would have had police involvement, but I found it quite jarring to have everything feel British but for it to be set in the States. 

What age range is it for? 16+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, it's a subplot, one which I quite liked. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Ajita is Hindu and Carson is black. I felt like the Hindu family was portrayed in somewhat of a bad light and I didn't particularly like it.

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, obviously. It's quite explicit but as I said, very sex positive. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I don't think so? Only alcohol. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, and it is somewhat explicit. 

Are there swear words? Yes, lots

What criticisms do I have? I found the setting a bit jarring, as above. I also thought that a couple of times Izzy's jokes were really off colour and I didn't like that. I get that she was really irreverent and jokey and that she did that to mask the trauma that she'd been through, but I felt it went a little too far. I do think that for a teenager it is a great introduction to sex positivity, body positivity, the myth of the Nice Guy, and basically how to be a kickass teenaged girl, so I'm trying to review this book from that point of view rather than from my own, older, perspective. I like Laura as a person and I know I'll follow her career, but I didn't love this book as much as I hoped to. 

I also wish that Izzy had told her grandma what was happening much earlier than she did. I understand the reasons given why she didn't, that she didn't want to worry her grandma who is in somewhat ill health and working all hours to keep a roof over their heads, but I really wish she had asked for an adult's help. I also thought the school behaved abysmally and didn't protect Izzy the way I wished!

Would I recommend the book? Yes, if you are a teenager. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was just idling my shelves as usual!

What other books is it like? Izzy reminded me of Billie in Dress Codes for Small Towns as she had the same feeling of being watched and judged. I think Billie and Izzy could be friends for sure!

How many stars? Three out of five. For myself, I didn't love it, but I think a lot of teenagers would. I'd definitely read something else by Laura though. 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it - it's signed to me after all!

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