Confession time: I read this book a LONG time ago, back in March when it was released. I read it in one sitting because it was too good to put down. I loved it so much, I instantly downloaded the audiobook version (which is perfectly narrated by Laura Aikman) and started to listen to it straight away. There’s a chance I’m currently part way through a second listen. It is that good. I haven’t posted a review until now because I have been trying (and failing) to find the words to do it justice.
The Exact Opposite of Okay is such an important book, and it would not be exaggerating to say it could change the world. It deals with so many relevant issues including (but not limited to): sexting, unsolicited dick pics (why, why are these a thing?), revenge porn, slut shaming, nice guys, and sexism. There are some heavy topics, but Laura deals with them in a humorous way. The humour in The Exact Opposite of Okay is really important: it lightens the tone of the book, gives Izzy a way of coping with what’s happening in her life, and stops the reader from wanting to cry themselves to sleep cuddling a bottle of gin (just about, anyway). Izzy is clear from the start that humour is the way she copes with this situation:
“If you’re seeking a nice cathartic cry, I’m not your girl.”
Unless you want to cry laughing, in which case Izzy O’Neill is very definitely your girl.
Izzy O’Neill is an “impoverished orphan” living with her grandmother, Betty, who finds herself at the centre of a slut-shaming scandal after sleeping with two guys at a party and becoming the main subject of the “World’s Biggest Slut” blog. Her story is narrated in first person, through a series of blog posts which Izzy has later added to, written an introduction for, and published as a book. If you think about it too long it will “make your brain hurt like it did when you watched inception for the first time”.
Izzy is such a relatable character. She is a perfectly ordinary school girl until this scandal shines a spotlight on her and makes her the topic of everyone’s conversation. Izzy is funny. She’s not the cleverest student, she doesn’t have a lot of money (her parents are dead, and her grandmother works all of the hours in the world to make ends meet), she has a couple of close friends, and ambitions of becoming a comedy writer (but she knows her financial situation doesn’t give her many options). Izzy is funny. Really funny. She made me laugh out loud more than I have in a long time. Izzy has a really strong sense of morals, she’s really clear about what she will and will not accept. She has never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. Though holding your head up high when the whole world seems to be against you isn’t always easy.
Izzy has her two best friends, Ajita and Danny who are also central to the story. The three of them share everything, but lately Danny has been acting weird. He’s started buying her things, complimenting her on things he wouldn’t normally and blushing around her. Danny is falling for Izzy and Izzy is feeling really uncomfortable about that. Danny makes snobby comments about Izzy’s choices, he keeps pestering her and buying her things in the hope that one day she’ll see that he is the man for her. He thinks that sticking around somehow earns him Izzy’s love. Izzy is not amused. Laura systematically and brilliantly destroys the myth of the “nice guy” and the “friendzone” in this book, showing just how harmful this behaviour of pushing your affection on someone who isn’t interested can be. Izzy isn’t afraid to tell Danny exactly what she thinks, and a lot of young women reading this will be grateful that Izzy vocalises their feelings.
Ajita is the most wonderful friend in all of the world. She is there to support Izzy. We all need a friend like Ajita. She has her own problems to deal with, but as this is Izzy’s story, narrated by Izzy, we only really hear Izzy’s take on Ajita’s problems. There is a lot of scope here for an Ajita spin-off story and I would 100% sell my soul for this.
Izzy also has Betty, the best grandma ever. Izzy has lived with Betty ever since her parents died, though they are more like close friends than grandmother and granddaughter. Betty has more than a passing interest in Izzy’s sex life and they share a lot. They both have a dark and twisted sense of humour which I adored. There’s one part, early in the book, where Betty offers to write a note excusing Izzy from school due to her struggling with her recent bereavement…thirteen years earlier. Their humour won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I loved it. Towards the end of the book, they’re forced to confront their shared grief and their feelings, but this only strengthens their relationship and makes them total family goals.
When the blog, and later the texts and nudes go live, Izzy is faced with a lot of backlash. Everyone has an opinion on her conduct (Danny included). Zachary, one of the boys she had sex with, is the son of a prominent politician and through him, her story gets a lot more traction. It also gives the reader a lot more to think about: a world where the sex life of a teenage girl is the only thing people can talk about it something we should all be concerned with. Soon Izzy can’t even walk down the street without wondering who has seen the naked pictures of her. The second guy, Carson, treats her completely differently to the way Zachary does, and the ways the two react are really interesting. They are both just as keen as Izzy to get to the bottom of who started this blog and made their private lives so public. The big reveal, when it comes, is a massive punch to the throat. It made me scream. I passed it onto friends who also screamed.
The Exact Opposite of Okay is one of those books that you feel compelled to thrust at everyone you see. I got copies for my two closest friends (my Queenies), who loved it. One of them called it “life-changing”, and said it was “witty, heartfelt, vital to the future of humanity, and a scathing indictment of rape culture and slut shaming”. She words better than me and should probably be the one doing book blogging. So, take her word for it and read this book, if you haven’t already.