Odd One Out, by Nic Stone
In stark contrast to many YA novels, the author has a solid idea of the complexities that our contemporary obsession with identity and sexuality brings to friendships and relationships. Quite strikingly for a novel written by a woman and featuring strong feminist themes, the characters in this novel that come off the best are the young men, particularly Courtney (the first of the book’s three narrators), and two of his athletic teammates, Britain and Golly, who help comfort Jupiter (one of the other three novels) after she makes a colossal mess of her friendships with others. This novel thoughtfully explores the complexity of identity that people have and the way that their behavior and the thorny problem of consent makes life difficult when it comes to finding lasting relationships. These characters make pretty serious mistakes, and the consequences of them have reverberating and likely lasting consequences, making it difficult to figure out how to have lasting relationships. The fact that the author has a loving relationship with a husband while being open about who she has been attracted to over the course of her life gives her a rather striking insight into the confusing aspects of identity and to a recognition of the damage that sexuality can have to our lives.
The plot itself is made more complex by the fact that it is told in three parts by three different narrators. We begin with Courtney “Coop” Cooper, who is a talented two-way athlete in football and basketball (as well as a male cheerleader) who finds his romantic relationships hindered by the jealousy of girlfriends with his close friendship with the lesbian Jupiter Charity-Sanchez (more on her later), where there is cuddling and platonic sleeping together and has been for years. Coop finds himself attracted to new girl Rae, with whom he shares a deep connection relating to a fallen figure who cared a great deal about children as well as the fate of being part of a broken family–Rae’s broken by divorce, Coop’s by the death of his father when he was young. Rae finds herself attracted by both Coop and Jupiter, and aggressively pursues both of them with complicated results. But the real surprise of this book comes in the third part when we find Jupiter rejecting the aggressive moves of Rae, trying to get with a college girl Breanna, while also sleeping with Cooper himself, which creates the full nexus of mutual betrayal that makes this a remarkably bittersweet book in the end.
And this is a book that leaves with the reader a great many questions about why it is so much harder to find love nowadays than it has been in previous generations. We are continually told to follow our hearts, and deal with a great many vexing questions of identity and standards and face the fact that we like people who do not like us and who are not honest about what they are about. Rae is drawn to both Coop and Jupe, but her bi-curious experimentation is unwelcome in the starkly romantic Jupe, and her pursuit of Coop puts him off a bit. Likewise, Jupe’s unwillingness to accept the fact that she is in love with Coop ends up sabotaging his relationships with others because girls do not feel that they can compete with someone who has been such a longtime and such a close friend. While total disaster is averted by the help of various friends and classmates of the trio (notably Golly and Britain), the end result shows more broken relationships and a difficult period of honest self-searching on the part of all of the characters, who must at last be open about their mixed motives and the way that they have betrayed the trust that others had in them.