Published by HarperTeen on June 11, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 352 •Format: E-Book •Source: Library, Overdrive
Eighteen-year-old Izzy O’Neill knows exactly who she is—a loyal friend, an aspiring comedian, and a person who believes that milk shakes and Reese’s peanut butter cups are major food groups. But after she’s caught in a compromising position with the son of a politician, it seems like everyone around her is eager to give her a new label: slut.
Izzy is certain that the whole thing will blow over and she can get back to worrying about how she doesn’t reciprocate her best friend Danny’s feelings for her and wondering how she is ever going to find a way out of their small town. Only it doesn’t.
And while she’s used to laughing her way out of any situation, as she finds herself first the center of high school gossip and then in the middle of a national scandal, it's hard even for her to find humor in the situation.
Izzy may be determined not to let anyone else define who she is, but that proves easier said than done when it seems like everyone has something to say about her.
I can’t quite remember how The Exact Opposite of Okay made it onto my TBR, but I found myself downloading it to my Kindle in preparation for my honeymoon as I wanted to be stocked with YA contemporary reads for the long plane rides ahead of me. I went into the story with little to no expectations and was surprised to find that it had a journal format (something that’s not as common in YA these days, though it was hugely popular in the early 2000s). I settled in for a story that honestly reminded me of a more crass and cynical Princess Diaries (at least from the perspective of the narrative tone).
The Exact Opposite of Okay follows the online blog of Izzy O’Neill, high school senior, aspiring screenwriter, orphan, and unapologetic comedian. Izzy actually has a rather tragic past (her parents both died when she was a toddler) but she has buried her trauma beneath layers and layers of (often inappropriate) humor. While Izzy was definitely meant to be a protagonist that wasn’t easily likeable (though she did grow on me by the end of the story), it sometimes felt like she was being too hard to be controversial/shockingly funny/blasé in her tones and pop culture references in her blog entries (hence why I was reminded of The Princess Diaries, only it doesn’t pull off the teen angst and cynicism quite as well, it feels more forced).
However, what I wasn’t expecting was for this book to carry such a feminist and sex-positive message. Izzy gets embroiled in an online scandal when private photos of her are leaked and of course disaster follows. But rather than being about the legal ramifications or political scandal (since she’s implicated with a politician’s son), this book takes an approach that focuses more on Izzy dealing with the fall out on a more personal level and how she personally wades through it, especially (and somewhat unfortunately) without the help of the authorities. Izzy’s not ashamed of her behavior and the message of the story really is more about the gross obsession with our media focusing on people’s private pictures being leaked rather than being concerned with the breach of privacy or perpetrator behind the act. At one point, when Izzy is worried about the ramifications it will have on her future career, the point is made that people (especially older adults) should be ashamed of their voyeuristic tendencies of even looking at the photos or following the news stories in the first place, which is 100% true and something that is not talked about often enough. While Izzy is taunted and bullied by her classmates, she still stands firm in her resolve that she’s done nothing wrong by choosing to have consensual intimate encounters and that she’s done nothing wrong (especially since her phone was hacked into to steal some of the photos and she was spied on in other instances), a sentiment that is backed up by the other strong females in her life (such as her grandmother who is her guardian or her theater teacher who serves as her mentor).
Now to clarify, Izzy definitely does suffer at the hands of the insults and bullying she faces in the aftermath of her photos being leaked. She’s drained emotionally from being taunted at school, is prone to breakdowns and is distrustful of even her closest friends afterwards. She also makes some not so great decisions regarding information she shares about her friends that should be kept private as well that also end up being exposed. She’s definitely not perfect and owns that and does acknowledge these flaws. However I did overall eventually tire of Izzy’s humor as a defense mechanism and while I rooted for her, did find her narrative to be a little exhausting at times, and also wished she had perhaps pursued what happened to her a bit more seriously, at least in terms of getting adults involved rather than let it fester for so long.
Overall: The Exact Opposite of Okay tackles tough topics like slut shaming, misogyny and male/female double standards in a head on, unapologetic way. Nothing that happens to Izzy gets sugarcoated, and her behavior is also flawed as well. The story is a blunt look at how anyone (especially females) can be exposed and shamed at the hands of the media and public judgement, and how misogynistic most of these situations are. Though the heaviness of the narrative is often alleviated by Izzy’s sense of humor, I still found it to be a soundly feminist read.