Odd One Out by Nic Stone
Crown Books for Young Readers, Oct 2018
Reviewed from ARC
Plot Summary: Courtney has known his best friend Jupiter since they were kids. Together, they’re “Jupe-and-Coop,” a unit so inseparable that they often fall asleep cuddling. Which isn’t okay because, even though Jupiter is an out and proud lesbian, Coop is in love with her. The arrival of new-girl-in-town Rae Chin sparks jealousy and misunderstandings–especially when it’s not clear to anyone, Rae included, whether she’s falling for Coop or Jupiter. Told from three perspectives, Odd One Out’s doozy of a love triangle is a dramatic reminder that sexuality is complicated and so are human relationships.
Queer Rep: The focus here is on characters who are questioning their sexuality–and doing so in a blunderingly human way that leads them to hurt those they least want to hurt. The three main characters are awful to one another, at times; they fail to communicate and they make bad choices. It makes for a heck of a painful story that is also incredibly evocative.
Through Jupiter’s struggle to reconcile her romantic and sexual feelings for Coop, Stone captures what’s at stake for someone who has identified as a lesbian to enter into a straight-passing relationship. For Jupiter, it requires rethinking her sense of self, reassessing her position within her queer community, and dealing with guilt for providing fodder for the bigots who have told her that her attraction to women is a phase she’ll get over. Jupiter slowly embraces the idea that sexuality identity doesn’t come in neat boxes and she has to be true to what she feels, regardless of what other people think.
Rae’s character provides a different take on questioning. From her point of view, it’s clear that she’s catching feelings for both Coop and Jupiter at the same time and doesn’t know what to do about it. Rae is interested in Jupiter, but Jupiter writes her off as a curious straight girl with insincere intentions. Since we get Rae’s perspective, we see the damage Jupiter’s assumptions do to their relationship.
In a story like this, where characters making misguided decisions is a lot of the point, it can be hard to see the line between behaviors and opinions that are supposed to be inferred to be wrong and those that are troubling in a way that detracts from the book. For me, it was difficult to stomach Coop lusting after lesbian-identifying Jupiter and keeping an eye on the bracelet that signals whether she’s had sex. Some definite issues: the narrative is inconsistent about the importance of genuine, uncoerced consent; bisexuality is misrepresented as only including attraction to cisgender folks; and the one brief mention of a trans character didn’t seem to be written with trans readers in mind.
At the same time, there are good things going on that I don’t want to discount. The three-part structure works wonderfully. The prose is often funny and always candid. And there’s attention given to how biracial identity and family dynamics interact with queer experience, for both Jupiter who is black/latina and growing up in a supportive two-dad family and Rae who is white/East Asian and contending with her parents’ divorce. I chose to write about this book not for the sake of criticism, but because it’s one folks should really know about.
Final Word: While this one wouldn’t get my vote for the Stonewall, it wins points for being intensely compelling and unlike anything else that’s out there and for contributing representation in vital areas: questioning characters and queer characters of color written by a queer author of color.