"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 of heart wrenching tale I need to feel better about my life" but, seriously, you have to relax.
I am not some pitiful Oliver Twist meets Kim Kardashian type figure If you're seeking a nice cathartic cry, I'm not your girl."
I went into my local independent bookshops, Imagined Things, after a title for a mid-teen reader that was neither dystopian, historic, fantasy-led nor - just as importantly - too depressive and was offered this YA title: THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF OKAY by Laura Steven.
The smart, confident voice of the main character, Izzy, invites you into this novel. Izzy is an almost-eighteen would-be comedy writer with plenty of attitude and a spirited take on life.
She has lived with Betty, her hard-working, strong-minded grandmother since Izzy's parents were killed in a car accident when she was young and I really enjoyed the bond between them all the way through to the end.
We meet Izzy and her best friends, Danny and Ajita, who have supported each other all through high-school life. This year - with freedom ahead and choices to be made - is unsettling them. Moreover, Izzy knows she doesn't have funds for a college education. Yet, when Izzy's
eccentric drama teacher encourages her to enter an important script-writing competition, all seems to be going well.
That is until, after a reckless, drunken party, someone starts sharing compromising photos of Izzy online around everyone at school. At first, Izzy can do nothing but act confidently, ignore the slut-shaming from other girls and ignore the remarks of various leery boys until things quieten down and the next small scandal comes along.
Unfortunately, someone sets up an "Izzy" site. Gradually a wider group of adults gets involved, and attitudes and consequences darken. Not only has Izzy's body and story become "public property", but she realises that someone she knows well is clearly promoting the harmful images as well as pushing the online comments to stir things up.
Who is it that hates her so much? And who can she trust? Or know will stand beside her as consequences pile up? With life unraveling around her, Izzy needs all her spirit to get through the notoriety. Her new fame is certainly no fairy tale and the adults around her cannot or, worse, do not all choose to help her when reputations are at stake.
I thought THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF OKAY is a very powerful portrayal of what happens when someone - almost innocently - is caught by the consequences of internet publicity. The reader is always on the side of Izzy and, when troubles arise, one feels for her. The novel does not blame her, siding with Izzy's own thoughts that her actions were rather silly, unwise but basically harmless.
However, there is no mistaking the cost that Izzy's unwilling "fame" takes of her initially happy-go-lucky nature, nor the way that mistrust eats into her friendliness and her belief in the world around her. Eventually, Izzy gets through it all, but not lightly or easily, especially when her real enemy is revealed.
Moreover, the novel did not read, to me, as a pious morality tale but as quiet support for those girls who end up on the wrong side of gossip and righteousness.
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