Odd One Out, Nic Stone, Crown Books for Young Readers (US); Simon and Schuster (Australia), 2018
From the publisher website:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin comes an honest and touching depiction of friendship, first love, and everything in between. Perfect for fans of Love, Simon and What If It’s Us.
Courtney Cooper and Jupiter Sanchez (Coop & Jupe!) have been next-door neighbors and best friends since they were seven-years-old. She’s his partner-in-crime and other half. But lately, Cooper can’t ignore he might want something more than friendship from Jupiter.
When Rae Chin moves to town she can’t believe how lucky she is to find Coop and Jupe. Being the new kid is usually synonymous with pariah, but around these two, she finally feels like she belongs. She’s so grateful she wants to kiss him…and her.
Jupiter has always liked girls. But when Rae starts dating Cooper, Jupe realizes that the only girl she ever really imagined by his side was her.
One story. Three sides. No easy answers.
Nic Stone burst on to the YA scene with her masterful Black Lives Matter novel, Dear Martin. I read this book in tandem with The Hate U Give and adored it, both as a social commentary and as a bold, unflinching examination of race relations in contemporary America, and as a beautiful, heartbreaking story of a young man coming of age.
I was so excited to hear that Nic was putting out a second book – even more so when I heard it would again feature a diverse cast of characters and that it would tackle the exploration of sexual identity. I was also thrilled to hear it would feature multiple narrators (my favourite)!
A couple of years ago, Julie Murphy (of Dumplin’ fame), brought out a wonderful book called Ramona Blue, which was an examination of a young woman’s discovery that she is not, in fact, a lesbian – as she always believed – but bisexual. The book faced some criticism, with many worried that it was legitimising the idea that sexuality is a choice, and that a gay person might simply “decide” to become heterosexual. I strongly disagreed with this assessment, as I believed the book was a deeply-felt and sensitive portray of a very realistic struggle (Murphy herself is bisexual). I felt it was very true-to-life – sexuality is not always set in stone. It can be fluid and it is important for young people to know that whatever sexual feelings they experience are okay and normal. I also very much valued a realistic portrayal of a bisexual character in YA literature – they are largely absent from much literature in general, and when they are featured, they are often stereotypes.
Without giving too much away about Odd One Out, Nic Stone is exploring similar ground, here, to the Murphy book and – like Murphy – she does so with tremendous sensitivity. Stone has a skill for tackling weighty issues with a light touch, while never minimising their importance. She also steers clear of dealing in stereotypes and tired tropes. All her characters are nuanced, fleshed-out and complex. I particularly loved Jupiter – who could have been an unlikable character, given that she is shown here as a breaker of more than one heart. Instead, she comes across as someone who conceals her inner conflicts and uncertainty with a thick veneer of bravado and jocularity. Her best friend, “Coop”, is equally well drawn – warm and sensitive and clever – and I was grateful that his crush on his best friend never steered into “creeper” territory.
Rae Chin, too, who could have been portrayed as an irritating third wheel to “Jupe-and-Coop”, is completely lovely (I especially appreciated her love of words and crossword puzzles). I will say I was a bit dissatisfied with how her part in the novel ended but, perhaps, this too was true to life.
This book is messy and raw and true. All the characters have their flaws, but I felt such affection for all of them. Nothing in this story is neatly tied up in a bow. Some parts of it are excruciatingly sad and some felt just too uncomfortably real. I found myself missing all the characters, when the book was done (and secretly hoping that Stone will pull a “Becky Albertalli” and give me more novels in their universe).
I am now hotly anticipating Nic Stone’s next book, Jackpot, which is described by the publisher as a “hard-hitting story about class, money–both too little and too much–and how you make your own luck in the world”. It also looks to be a mystery (which we need more of in YA!), featuring, again, a diverse cast … and possibly multiple narrators. So. It sounds like it will be right up my alley!