Saturday, October 13, 2018

Book Review: "Odd One Out" by Nic Stone

Courtney Aloysius Cooper IV ("Coop") has been in love with his best friend Jupiter for as long as he can remember. He knows she is a lesbian so he knows a romantic relationship between the two will never happen, but that doesn't stop him from thinking about her all the time. Plus, it doesn't help that they spend almost all of their free time together since they live next door to each other and their families are intertwined. Heck, he even pledged his virginity to her when they were in seventh grade.

"Do I realize it's dumb to have secret feelings for my lady-loving best girl friend and to want said best girl friend to be my first sexual intercourse experience? Yes. But being reminded of the dumbness doesn't make me feel very good."

Every romantic relationship Coop has tends to end because of Jupiter, since none of the girls he dates can handle him having a gorgeous female best friend, regardless of her sexuality. Truth be told, Coop never seems too broken up about the relationships ending. But his best guy friends think he's just setting himself up for heartbreak, and want him to put together a "game plan" that doesn't involve Jupiter.

Jupe loves Coop (they refer to themselves as "Jupe-n-Coop") as a brother and a best friend, but she doesn't think of him romantically. She's waiting to feel something special for a girl instead of the myriad crushes she's had through the years. She's proud of who she is, even though some in school treat her as if she just needs a guy to help solve her problems, while some female classmates think she'd be fun to experiment with.

Enter Rae Chin. The new girl in school, she and Jupiter quickly become friends, which leaves Coop feeling left out. But when Rae and Coop realize they share a traumatic memory from childhood, the two begin a friendship which turns into a flirtation whenever Jupiter isn't around. And no matter how much Jupe tries to downplay Rae's flirty advances toward her, she starts falling for Rae. It's enough complication to rattle every side of the triangle.

Who wins and who loses when friends try taking their relationship to the next level? How do you know when you have true feelings or if you're acting out of fear, jealousy, lust, loneliness, or betrayal? Can you really trust anyone with your heart? How can you truly understand your sexual identity, and if it differs from what you told people, what does that mean for everyone else?

Odd One Out is a poignant, sweet, thought-provoking exploration of the bonds between friends and how romance can both blur and possibly damage those bonds. It's a well-written book about being honest with yourself and those around you, and how easy it can be to take advantage of someone whose feelings may be stronger for you than yours are for them. It's also a look at sexual identity and how it is shaped, and whether declaring who you are is really important.

I really enjoyed this. At first I worried if the characters would be stereotypical or one-dimensional, but Nic Stone is such a talented writer that I needn't have been concerned. These characters are ones you want to root for and know more about, but in the end, they're still high school students—they don't speak as if their dialogue was written by Aaron Sorkin and they're not wise beyond their years. That's one of the keys to this book's appeal, that it feels so genuine.

In Stone's author's note, she says the following: "Being who you are and loving who you love may not be easy, but it's always worthwhile." As I've said many times when I've read great YA fiction, this is one of those books I wish existed when I was growing up, but I'm so glad it exists at this time, and hope it falls into the hands of those who will benefit from it.

What I loved so much about Odd One Out is that it didn't try too hard to convey its message, but its heart definitely won mine over. This is a special book for those who explore it.

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