“If only the entire world did not equate harmless fun with whoredom of the highest order.”
Women don’t owe you anything. The Exact Opposite of Okay tells the story of high schooler Izzy O’Neill whose nudes “accidentally” leak. Its recipient being the son of a political figure, Izzy quickly gets thrown under a toxic and very public spotlight. The Exact Opposite of Okay has a diverse cast of characters which is always nice to read about (Indian rep, LGBT+ rep, disability rep, “non-traditional” family structure rep as Izzy is an orphan, raised by her grandmother)
First off, the writing was really good and so was the comedic timing. However, the constant use of brackets became redundant and quickly annoying. Although they did serve a purpose since the book is basically the sum of Izzy’s old blog posts, the brackets serve as “present day” Izzy’s commentary. They simply didn’t feel necessary in my opinion, even though they added a touch of “fantasy”. I also didn’t like the pace, either too slow or too fast.
“Honestly, I swear I’m the only person in the universe who realizes how pointless life is. People act like mere existence is some beautiful gift, completely overlooking the fact that said existence is nothing but the result of a freak accident that occurred a cool 13.7 billion years ago.”
>> Izzy and Betty (her grandmother) : Izzy is being raised by her grandmother, who is a very upfront old woman and an absolute treat to read about. Izzy is absolutely hilarious (she writes skits) and well-spoken. Reading her character progression as she has to deal with the backlash of the sex scandals was insightful and a learning experience, to be honest. Izzy has strong opinions and she’s very smart. The discussions about abstinence, sex positivity, Teenagers Having Sex (the shock, right ?) and the lack of balance between male and female backlash in sex scandals were all very eloquent. I overall really loved reading Izzy’s inner monologues. “So, to summarize: two guys, one night, both highly enjoyable. Is there a TripAdvisor for one-night stands? If there was, I would definitely recommend both gentlemen to a friend.” I’m glad this book exists because it depicts realistic teenage behavior and I’m all for that. Yes, ladies and gents, teens have sex. Don’t gasp.
>> Ajita : “It’s like when I talk about racism, I’m not asking for one single white person to wave their magic privilege wand and fix one single symptom. What I’m saying is that I want the systemic racism to not exist in the first place. I want a cure, not a Band-Aid.” She shrugs. “But a lot of rich white guys will never get that. They’ll always make it about them. And why wouldn’t they? Historically, it always has been about them.” Oof. Ajita is a Good Friend. No, scratch that, she’s a Great Friend. She’s supportive of Izzy, she’s not judgmental and open-minded. She’s so well-spoken and witty and intelligent and I loved her with all my heart. At some point, she’s accidentally outed by Izzy and I don’t know how I feel about that. I did enjoy that Izzy gave Ajita the space she needs to figure herself out and isn’t out to force her to make these realizations. The public outing was NOT necessary.
>> Danny AKA DIE IN A DUMPSTER : oof, okay let me try not to get too annoyed. Nah, never mind. Danny aka the personnification of “White Male Privilege And Entitlement” was insufferable and I will dive more into his character later on in this review. Danny was disrespectful, insistant, he didn’t care about Izzy’s feelings, only his own. Izzy says this at some point and I thought it was very relevant and well-said : “You really think being ‘Friend-Zoned’ is worse than finding out someone you thought valued you as a whole person just wanted to fuck you?” At the end of the day, Danny is NOT a good friend, and NOT a good person in general it’s revealed he’s the one who leaked the nudes
>> Token Love Interest and why they held no appeal to me : So okay, this might be harsher than need be but it’s how I personally felt. There’s a potential love story between Izzy and a male character whose name I forgot and I didn’t like it. I feel like there’s a tendancy in YA to randomly throw in a love interest in the path of the main character. I felt like the love interest here served no purpose whatsoever.
“A month ago, if you’d asked me what three things I wanted to be, I’d have said: funny, cool, well-liked. What do I want to be now? Bold. Fierce. Honest. A fighter. A revolutionary. A bitch. Because the way the world treats teenage girls—as sluts, as objects, as bitches—is not okay. It’s the exact opposite of okay.”
>> women’s claims on their own bodies : When are our bodies really our own ? When do they not belong to the world through an unfortunate revealing picture ? When does it not belong to a friend who deems his place in the so-called “friendzone” is unfair and consequently that he has a right to claim it ? At what precise moment do we go from prude to slut ? What’s the determining factor ? Where’s the line, the limit a woman shouldn’t cross? The Exact Opposite of Okay was a good reminder on two different levels : 1° the fact that as women we can and should claim back our bodies, 2° the male gaze can go fuck itself.
>> women’s bodies are NOT a political playground : Vaughan (i.e the recipient of the nude picture) is the son of a political figure. Said political figure uses Izzy’s nudes as a way to further his political agenda by promoting abstinence and inherently oppressing women by shaming them.
>> Slut-shaming and women’s sexuality : “Because here’s the thing: slut-shaming is not really about women’s sexuality. It is grounded in the belief that men have the right to assert themselves, and women do not.” SAY IT LOUDER. Her Mind ! Her Eloquency ! Her Brain And Brilliance !
“Our sexuality is a commodity, and thus the principles of supply and demand can be applied. If we’re sexy but untouchable, we’re in short supply. Demand goes up. And because demand goes up, the aforementioned old white man can charge more money for it. But if we give it away freely? If we actually have sex—and have the audacity to enjoy it? Supply is booming. Profit margins die. Old white men can’t make as much money, so they get out their sticks and beat us into slut-shamed remission. And the rest of the society buys into it. When you’re a young girl, your developing sexuality is a loaded weapon. You should polish it to a shine for the sake of the male gaze, but you shouldn’t seek any enjoyment from it yourself. Play with power, as long as you never claim it. Enact desire, as long as you don’t follow through. I call bullshit. “
>> constant objectification : The male entitlement and the male gaze are omnipresent and this book was a good reminder that it’s okay to tell dudes to fuck off. Izzy has an uncomfortable conversation with one of her teachers. It’s revealed in the course of that discussion that he has indeed seen the nudes. His reaction was disgusting but not far-fetched from what actually does constantly happens to women and girls.
>> Sorry to tell you but The Friendzone Is A Myth aka Izzy Did That aka Danny Can Die In A Dumpster Part 2.
Friendzone (noun) “a convenient social construct designed to comfort men who cannot cope with rejection.” Izzy’s best friend, Danny, has a crush on her and rather than understanding that NO means NO, he’d rather spend his time and money buying Izzy gifts in the hopes to buy her love and get the love he thinks he “deserves”. It says a lot about male behavior and about this unspoken dictatorship from the patriarchy projected onto women who are just supposed to accept men making the choices for them. “This wasn’t a display of romance and affection. It was a categoric ultimate rejection of his place in the Friend Zone. A thinly veiled assertion of male dominance. A statement: that his feelings and desires are more important than mine. It’s like he’s saying: “I don’t respect your decision not to want to fuck me, and I will manipulate the hell out of your emotions until you change your mind.” Argh. I’ve told him I don’t want a romantic relationship. Why isn’t that enough?”
>> How sex is dealt with in school : cue That Mean Girls Scene. “For some reason, our Bible-thumping English teacher and all-around abstinence champion Miss Castillo is the one delivering the talk. Because obviously in America the only thing we should be teaching our teens about sex is that they shouldn’t do it. Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die. That sort of thing. It’s working out soooo well for us.”
Laura Steven dealt with these various themes in such an eloquent way that it was impossible for me not to enjoy this book. Although I didn’t enjoy everything, I found it refreshing to read and I’m glad this book exists because it’s a necessary one.