You’ve all seen the tag on twitter and instagram. “Look at this time I was standing on a beach looking really hot and tanned with my abs and biceps and perfect hair! Take me back! #throwbackthursday!” Well, this is the book equivalent. A hop back in time, if you will, to revisit a book that is brilliant but a bit older, but that still definitely deserves some love.
In honour of the upcoming release of “The Love Hypothesis”, today we’re throwing it back to the amazing debut novel from all around excellent human Laura Steven, The Exact Opposite of Okay. I have fond memories of this book (I say, as though it was written a hundred years ago when I was in the prime of youth, and not the withered husk of a 30 year old I am now): Laura’s was the first ever event I worked as a bookseller, when she was having a chat with David Levithan and local book-blogging darling Steph. I also have the bruise on my arm still from being hit with a copy by both Martha and Adele and told “Read this if you’re working on this floor, nerd.” So I did. And I’m glad. But my arm still hurts.
Look, you probably bought this book because you read the blurb about how I’m an impoverished orphan and also at the heart of a national slut shaming scandal, and you thought Oh great, this is just the kind o heart-wrenching tale I need to feel better about my own life, but seriously, you have to relax.Laura Steven – The Exact Opposite of Okay.
The Exact Opposite of Okay is the story of Izzy, a sarcastic, ridiculous high school junior, who wants to be a stand up comic or screen writer. Living with her grandma after the death of her parents, she’s just chugging along, trying to avoid planning for the future and the inevitable block that money will prove to be. ‘Til then, she’s more than happy just sitting in her best friend Ajita’s basement making YouTube skits and living life.
This all changes though when she hooks up with a guy at a party. Well, two guys. One, Carson Manning, is the handsome basketball player with smooth moves and smoother talker (yeah, I know that’s cringey. I just cringed so hard whilst writing it, I’m pretty sure I developed a six pack.). The other, Zachary Vaughn, is the son of a politician running for office. And herein lies the issue. Someone decides to leak the events of the night, and the subsequent nudes, and make a website izzyoneillworldclasswhore.com. Shit goes down.
In this book, Laura looks at the culture of slut shaming, of revenge porn, and of the “Friend Zone” (put in quotation marks because its not real and just an excuse that dudebros use when they’re feeling entitled to sex for pretending to be a decent human being – the gay world has them too and they’re not fun in any sexuality). Izzy is subjected to some horrific things, a veritable hate campaign against her for *gasp* enjoying sex! Escandalo! As a guy, I’m not likely to ever be held to the same standards as a woman for having sex. Even if a million pictures of me naked were leaked, its highly unlikely I’d ever be judged for them, but if the same thing were to happen to a woman, like happens to Izzy, there would be uproar, bitchy comments, harassment, and just general despicable behaviour. The way Laura deals with this is frighteningly accurate and horrifying, but wrapped in the colourful wrapper of Izzy’s humour and sarcasm.
And Izzy’s way of dealing with the pain she’s experiencing is familiar. We’ve all cracked a joke when we’re feeling vulnerable or hurt, just to deflect it and make it seem like we’re not bothered. I’ve done it loads. But that’s why this book hits home so hard. You identify with Izzy so strongly that it could be you getting hateful texts or being held up as a symbol of everything wrong with young people (although I probably don’t count as a young people any more…). Every time you’re pulled in with the hug of a joke, it’s just so that the vitriol can punch you that bit harder.
The overwhelming messages of The Exact Opposite of Okay are threefold: 1) Sometimes the people closest to you can fuck you up the most, 2) You can get through anything if your friends have got your back, and 3) there are very few things that four tons of nachos and a whiskey spiked hot chocolate can’t solve.
I think this is such an important book. Not just because of the dachshund Dumbledore, not just because of Betty, Izzy’s amazing grandma, but because it shows really clearly and accurately the shitty double standard that exists in the world over how men and women are treated, how some entitled idiot can ruin your life because they think you owe them something (newsflash, you don’t), how it’s ok to ask for help from your friends and family, and does it all whilst being really damn funny.
Please please go and buy this book (and the sequel, A Girl Called Shameless), it’s so worth it! Also, I don’t want the girls to hit me with them anymore…
The Exact Opposite of Okay – Laura Steven ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐