OK never

A Twitter friend of mine – a very talented writer by the name of Jacinta Horgan – put me on to a book called The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven. This Young Adult novel is as powerful and as focussed on exposing and countering evil as To Kill a Mockingbird or the Diary of Anne Frank.

Conceived on the day Don Trump was inaugurated and published before Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed, this novel explores the difficulties and discrimination faced by women in coming to terms with not just their sexuality but their gender roles. Long story short, women cannot easily embrace their desire and enjoyment of sex without being shamed and shunned, often by those closest to them.

Izzy O’Neill is as endearing an adolescent as fiction has produced. Brash but uncertain, comic but serious, she presents a wisecracking face to the world but behind is vulnerable and gentle and fiercely loyal. Go ahead, love her. She’s worth it.

Things are going okay for her at school. She’s not a great student, but she’s into drama, screenwriting, comedy, and video blogging. She’s hard-pressed to scrape together enough money for a burger and a shake, but she has a copy of First Draft.

And she’s good. Very good. Maths might not be her strong subject, but the drama teacher has taken note of her talent and is willing to back her up.

And then it all goes pear-shaped. Very little of this is Izzy’s fault, but suddenly her life is turning into shit and it keeps on getting worse. The blows keep raining down on her and she loses everything. Almost everything.

It gets bad. Real bad. But there’s a bright side, secrets are revealed, windows open where doors close, and most of all, we are forced to confront the very real truths of today’s world. Man or woman, life is not fair, and Laura Steven shows exactly why.

As an aside, there’s sex and nudity and crudity all the way through this book. There’s a marvellous line about dick cheese. Hell, the book is full of brilliant lines. But this isn’t a lewd or erotic book. This is a book about young people, and it rings true because of the language and the themes.

This book is fiction, but it is solidly grounded in truth. In the days of #MeToo and resurgent male privilege, this book needs to be read, discussed and understood as soon as possible, before children turn into teenagers turn into adults turn into parents and pass on their own assumptions in turn.

Young men – and I am sure, many young women as well – simply cannot see the problems with male privilege. They are told in every way that this is the natural order. Boys get it better. It’s in the bible. It’s in gender roles. It’s in power structures. It’s in clothing and food and Shakespeare. The balls in their thoughts don’t run along paths of fairness and equality.

Well, if there were a few more books like this one, ones that say no, that’s not how it should be, that’s not okay, that’s not what we should be teaching our children, then things would maybe start to change.

We still have vile discrimination on race and religion and ethnicity, even with Mockingbird and Anne Frank. But those books also have some leverage to give young people some understanding, rather than simply accepting that’s the way things are.

Jews are not subhuman, people of colour are not second-class, and women are not both. Women create strong, evocative, thoughtful, powerful literature. Partly because they are women in a man’s world.

Time to say that this man’s world shit is the exact opposite of okay.


Photo by Lukas from Pexels

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