I have a story to tell. A blind confession of sorts. Not so long ago I railed against tropes done poorly, especially love triangles. At the time, I mentioned I’d witnessed an epic one, but that’s not my story to tell. What I didn’t say is that my college self was involved in quite the tangled web. There was he said and she said. There was manipulation and lies. There was crying and fighting. There was A likes B, and B likes A, and A likes C, and C likes A, but D likes C, and E likes A, and F likes B, and G likes F, and H watching from the wings, and I (the letter not I, the writer) the innocent victim.
Names would be easier, but it was a lifetime ago and who wants to one day discover they were, as the kids say, on blast in some small, distant corner of the Internet. In the end there was truth and lies and love and mistakes and friendships left in tatters. There was also an expulsion. Our little group was left splintered. It was to say the least a cluster. And looking back across the years reminds me that there was once a time when I was nothing more than a clueless kid led strictly by emotions and to hell with the consequences. Weren’t most of us?
I think this episode from my life is why Nic Stone’s Odd One Out resonated so deeply with me. When I closed the book after the second read I found myself not nostalgic but thinking about my time as a first year college student and wondering if we could have untangled ourselves as easily as her characters seemed to do.
Not a chance. The bitterness was too strong and the attachments too new. Perhaps if we’d had Odd One Out our path would have been just as rocky, but our resolution might have looked less like the aftermath of a raging battle. We were carrion and scavengers. And though our circumstances don’t perfectly resemble that of Nic Stone’s characters in Odd One Out because none of us were battling the politics of labels and sexuality, that was the other triangle, but we were weighing Philia and Eros, which was perhaps our fatal flaw.
I could call Odd One Out’s happy resolution a fatal flaw because it comes quickly, but not easily, but that isn’t the case. The resolution felt honest and true to the two characters that occupy the final few pages. Truthfully, the book has few flaws, but for some reason on the first read it felt terribly flawed. I went back into the book to understand when, where, and why it left me unsatisfied. Three things came of my rereading the book.
The first was that what on first read left me with a face marked with disappointment suddenly left me with a conspiratorial grin. I get it now. I should have gotten it all along. I let my focus drift away from the characters and the story unfolding before me: Jupes and her best friend Coop. Everything else was static and chatter. But I made a mistake. Jupes made a declaration, and I embraced it. The problem was my sudden rigidity. I locked her into an identity and didn't allow her the flexibility I grant real people. I took a mental walk of shame and didn't make the same mistake during the second read.
The second was I realized that there was a steaming pile of John Green in this book. One of his patented throwaway plot lines that lend nothing to the book. Like a wealthy dinosaur or a missing person mystery. It was there for the sake of plot convenience and personal connection. It’s transparent. The difference being a writer mired in the minutes of plot versus one rooted in the arc of their characters. John Green’s characters always feel like they exist within the thin glass walls of a snow globe-removed from the real world. They don’t often feel like people I know or could know because they are so removed from reality. Stone’s characters occupy space in the real world. The girl you grew up with, the boy who smiled at you on a walk through the hallways . . . they possess a solidity you could brush against without them fading away under the warmth of your touch.
The third was the book’s flaw. Rae. She is one unbelievably annoying character. She’s the third character in our trio of protagonists. I read her section faster than the other two because she was so needy, childish, and overstepping. I often wondered as I read if Nic Stone made Rae so unlikeable to steer the reader toward the two stronger characters, Coop (Cooper) and Jupes (Jupiter). Was there some subconscious desire to render Rae unworthy of the bigger story? I don’t know if that was the plan, but Rae was definitely unworthy. She was a walking wound. Her every action was a reaction. She was stereotypical and ordinary pretending to be extraordinary. She was a Mary Sue who did everything wrong. She was the last bit of missing diversity in a diverse cast. She was a bad oxymoron with a big vocabulary.
Rae isn’t enough to kill this book. There is too much good to deny it recognition. More importantly this is a book that needs to be read by students. It’s a book for everyone, but I could easily name students who need a book that tells them it’s okay to not know how to label themselves, that it’s okay not to want to label themselves, that there are other people who are also afraid of what might happen if the label they’ve claimed for so long suddenly changes, that there is no black and white on the rainbow because the plus contains multitudes.