As I mentioned in my last post, I read two books set in small-town Texas tackling issues of feminism in very quick succession. Part One discussed Moxie, which told the story of Viv discovering feminism and advocating for change in her school. Today’s post is talking about the second of these two books, The Exact Opposite of Okay, which tells the story of Izzy O’Neill dealing with being the subject of a national sex scandal. I received a proof copy of this book at YALC.
Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has…
TEOOO starts off with a girl who is already unashamedly a feminist, and uses humour to deal with life in general. An aspiring screenwriter and comic, Izzy is almost finished school, and spends her days laughing with her two best friends, writing and filming sketches, and chilling out with her awesome grandma/parent figure.
Then everything changes when a malicious website – Izzy O’Neill World Class Whore – is set up, and Izzy suddenly becomes a pariah. Told through blog posts written at the time, with later commentary from future Izzy as she assembles them into a book, the real-time updates were actually, I thought, one of the weakest things about the book. While I can countenance the idea that a diary/journal could be written on the go and updated several times a day, for some reason I didn’t feel the same about a blog. I think that’s my own personal prejudices, though, and probably for 18 year olds, I’m making no sense at all.
In any case, the dual format of blog post written at the time and later commentary allows Izzy to give us two perspectives – both her immediate thoughts and feelings, and then later more considred thoughts. It also allows for some fourth wall breaking which is very witty at times.
Caught up in a sex scandal, Izzy holds her head high, tries to find out who’s behind the website, and tries to bite back against the double standards inherent in the fact that she’s reviled as a wanton, loose woman, while the man involved is depicted as having been caught up and dragged along by a hussy. The acerbic commentary on the slut-shaming culture that only applies to women resonates strongly with me.
There was so much in this book that I really loved. The discussions of slut-shaming, revenge porn, the friendzone, nice guy culture, and ‘purity’ of women (but not men!) were absolutely spot-on, and hit every button of outrage in me.
Izzy is already, unashamedly, a feminist, sex-positive, and unafraid to speak out about her right to be seen as equal in every way to any man. But, of course, when it’s a sex scandal, there are issues that she has to deal with also. Her discussion of these, her actions, and her responses, even when she has an open and frank relationship with her grandmother, are so realistically drawn that I really did love them.
Izzy is basically my idol. Holding her head up in the face of public shaming, she bites back and criticises the inherent sexism in what she’s being subjected to, but she’s still human, and she has her own wobbles and difficulties. I read this book in a single day, when I was supposed to be writing lectures, and will be pressing recommendations on many of my friends and family to pick up their own copies of it. Funny and frank, this is a book which needs to be read and discussed, because it’s so on the nose.
As I already mentioned, I had some wobbles about the blog format of the book. It’s also not exactly hot on diversity or intersectional feminism. But I actually think that’s okay, because this specific book is about Izzy’s personal experience of slut-shaming and sex culture, and it applies to her and her alone.
Really excellent read, and highly recommended.
The Exact Opposite of Okay is published on March 8, 2018 – International Women’s Day!
When looking at both books set in Texas together, it’s a little depressing how many similarities there are between them – cultures of jocks and geeks, boys will be boys, and girls must be good and quiet and not sexual at all. Given that Izzy is an older protagonist than Viv, and that she already knows she’s a feminist, whereas Viv is only discovering feminism, Izzy resonated with me that bit more, but it was really wonderful to read two books with such kick-ass, take-no-shit ladies who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves and what they believe in.
Honestly, I recommend that you read both of these books, because they’re both well-written, engrossing, engaging, and fun. But if you have time to only read one, then I’d say Moxie is a feminism primer, and The Exact Opposite of Okay is already clearly feminist. But I don’t think you should choose. I think you should read both of them, as soon as they’re published!