Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz • Magan Reviews

Book Review for Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah MoskowitzNot Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz [twitter • website]
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 304
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.

• • •

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.

• • •

rather be reading worth it icon

Add NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED to Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble

• • •

Dive into Diversity Reading Challenge

Estelle: The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George

The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George
Release Date: March 15, 2012
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Pages: 256
Target: Young adult
Format read: A paperback received at ALA. (Thank you!)
Why I was interested: Intrigued by this love story.

Summary: Jesse and Emily couldn’t be more different. Jesse is the organizer of a group with a mission to “liberate the weirdos” while Emily is very active as the vice president of the student council. Jesse thinks her combat boots complete every outfit, while Emily wears her share of J.Crew sweaters. Jesse is in love with Emily, and Emily is… well… may be in love with Jesse, shares many intense Tuesday afternoons with her, but has a boyfriend. When a school issue causes the two to be on separate sides of the argument, both are forced to reevaluate their “relationship” and the value (and cost) of being themselves.

For reasons I can’t completely grasp (even after I finished it a week ago), I felt strongly connected to Jesse and Emily’s relationship. At times, I wanted to just throw the book across the room because the dread, the ache, the excitement between the two was so real to me. It felt like I was experiencing it myself. That would be thanks to author Madeleine George, who I was delighted to find out is a playwright living right in my backyard (NYC). It’s really no surprise. She writes with a stark simplicity that I quite liked and her character development was very strong. The plot moved at a reasonable pace, and every word seemed very deliberate. I’m not normally a fan of books that don’t offer a ton of dialogue but I found myself very intrigued with the inner thoughts of these characters. If I walked into any crowded room, I felt I could easily uncover Jesse and Emily, even if I hardly “heard” them speak.

Jesse is the kind of character I love. She is brave. And while she has a strong sense of who she is, she is also incredibly flawed. This is important to me as a reader and a human being. Her secret hook-ups with Emily definitely start to take a toll. She worries about what this means about the kind of person she is. She’s falling for a person that her family may not approve of, someone who may not ever want to hold her hand in public. But she allows herself to dream that impossible dream, as so many of us do. No matter how painful the truth is, and how much deep down, we know what we might be doing is wrong. All of these emotions surrounding their relationship were so incredibly vivid, especially when we learn what Emily is feeling… or not.

Emily is so proper, and so much about appearances and doing the right thing, I almost felt like she was campaigning to be the next President of the United States. She was not a person who let her guard down. She worried about moving forward and getting ahead, and taking charge and keeping things in order. So she must have felt really messed up that she was feeling such affection for Jesse and enjoyed making out with her. At times she even allowed herself to dream about making this relationship something more. I enjoyed those times because, otherwise, Emily came off as a cold person. And I could relate to Jesse feeling so crazed about the whole thing because the two didn’t communicate about their feelings, their fears, or what everything meant. (That would have made me crazy. I like to talk everything out and know what every move means.)

So here we have these two characters narrating alternate chapters, and then Esther turns up. She and Jesse end up becoming friends, bonding over their mothers and accepting their differences and their interests in meaningful work. I liked her character, but I’m not sure of the conscious decision to give her 2 chapters out of the entire book. I felt we could have easily found out these tidbits about her from Jesse’s point of view for sure. Structurally, it didn’t work for me, and emotionally, I was more invested in Jesse and Emily especially once the Starmart conflict comes into play. Similarly to TESSA MASTERSON WILL GO TO PROM, we have another situation where a big business is attempting to take over local businesses. The catch? This is the same business Emily recruited to sponsor their latest school dance. Much comes into question for Emily and Jesse when this situation blows up at school. So much so that this conflict becomes the driving force behind the movement of the plot, and not so much their relationship – which I liked a lot.

In the end though, and quite surprising to me, only one of these characters comes full circle in their journey. One character changes. I don’t necessarily agree with that decision. The ending certainly snuck up on me; I could have used more resolution in several aspects of The Difference Between You and Me. All in all, I love how this book was written, and I was more than happy to read an LGBT that chronicles the lives of 3 such different people.  It teaches us that you can’t always choose who you love, and perhaps, it teaches us even more about acceptance.

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon