Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz [twitter • website]
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: eating disorders, theater school, Nebraska, LGBTQ, black MC
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Etta is all of these things: black, bisexual, a former ballerina, lonely, recovering from an eating disorder, and anxious to get out of Nebraska. She and her best friends aren’t getting along anymore and while she’s in search of a way out of Nebraska, she befriends a new group, very different from her, but the gaping holes in her heart start to not feel quite so deep anymore.
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Whew. Etta. She is … a character, a handful, a LOT to take in. She’s a bundle of constant energy with strong opinions, a lot of talent, full of run-on-sentences and rambling thoughts, and a lot of loneliness as she finds herself distanced from her best friends because she started dating a boy.
Yep, a boy. Etta was a part of the Dykes clique at her school, a group of girls who were out and proud of it, and yes, labeled as aforementioned. A group consisting of her very best friends that she dressed up in retro 70s clothing with and went to the town’s only gay club. But Etta’s never felt defined as wanting to date girls OR boys. It’s never been an either/or dilemma for her. So when she meets a nice guy, they date, and her friends abandon and begin bullying her, and Etta feels more lost than she ever has before.
Etta’s broken up with that boy, still not speaking to her ex-girlfriends, is attending weekly meetings for her eating disorder, and begins to meet with a group of people to audition for a New York theater academy. If only she can get out of Nebraska and be some place where there are more people like her, maybe life will improve. It has to. Etta’s new group is very different from her: Bianca is a very young, very sick anorexic, Christian girl with more talent than anyone Etta’s ever met. James is Bianca’s protective, kind older brother with secrets of his own. James’ best friend is Mason who becomes really protective of and enamored with Etta.
I admit it took me a little while to really get into Not Otherwise Specified. It’s written very freely and Etta’s inner monologue is wordy, sometimes all over the place. I suppose I’m also a little more polite and less abrasive than Etta, too, which I had to get over to embrace her. But when I did get into the rhythm of Etta’s craziness to see how all of these factors propelled her to want to get out and find her footing, I couldn’t stop reading.
Not Otherwise Specified is likely one of the most diverse books I’ve read in a long while, and I absolutely loved that we have this main character who is bisexual with a newfound best friend who is a devout Christian. Clearly they have some fundamental differences that separate them, but Moskowitz handled this in such a profound way. Granted, some of this wording may have changed in the final edits, but this section particularly made me happy to see. Etta’s not above trying to understand Bianca’s feelings even though they differ from her own:
“…obviously thinking that gay people are wrong is antiquated and messed up, but that idea is not what Bianca’s worshipping. She’s not in this to hate gay people. She doesn’t hate gay people. She’s just this girl who really loves her God and doesn’t want to do anything to pull herself away from him–sorry, Mason–probably just as much as she doesn’t want to be pulled away from her brother.
…but I don’t think we can just say that something she believes, something that she fundamentally wants to not hurt anybody is something she can, or should, just get over.”
Take a chance on Etta. Challenge yourself and read her story about loneliness, acceptance, moving forward, not feeling like you belong, and befriending people very unlike yourself. It might take a beat to adapt to Etta’s over-the-top personality, but once you do, you’ll anxiously be awaiting to see what happens next.
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