I liked this book, but I don’t quite know what to say about it. In many ways, I struggled with Etta as a protagonist because she could be very over the top, but I related to her so freaking much, and that made me forget the times when I wasn’t sighing and silently telling Etta that she didn’t have to be so dramatic all the time.
She has multiple issues in her life, and it’s great to see all of these things happening together and as distinct issues (yay, intersectionality!)
Etta is bisexual! Not gay, not straight, but bisexual! As QUILTBAG representation becomes better, we focus so much on gay men and lesbians that it’s easy to forget that there many other kinds of sexualities, including bisexuality, and that they can face discrimination that gay and straight people don’t. Etta was part of the “lesbian” group (the Dykes) at her girls-only school, but when she dated a boy, they all acted like she lied about her sexuality or turned straight or something, even though she was always open about the fact that she was bi. She knows she likes girls and boys, and despite all the dumb stuff she has to put up with because of other people, she never questions her sexuality, which is great.
When you look at the cover, the first thing you might notice is that Etta is black. She comes from a well-off black family and goes to a private girls school that mostly has white students, so she’s also isolated because most of her friends are white, and I can’t recall any other black characters in the book (although I did read it a while ago at this point), friend or otherwise. The fact that she’s black is definitely a big part of her identity as a ballerina – the “typical” ballerina is a white, thin, and graceful girl, which doesn’t apply to Etta, so she’s isolated further even while doing something she loves, like dancing.
When you think of a “typical” eating disorder book, you probably think of a girl who’s much too thin and has trouble eating at all – Etta is not that girl, but she definitely still has an eating disorder. She struggles with eating, even if other people might think she has “regular” eating habits because she actually is eating. Much of it seems internal, with disordered thinking that can lead to problems. She’s also a bit plumper than most girls her age, which certainly doesn’t help her self esteem, especially when she’s in her support group and surrounded by girls who are dangerously thin.
This is a great example of the diversity we need in books. It’s not just a Bisexaul book, a African American book, or an Eating Disorder book – it shows us that there are many different kinds of diversity and intersectionality. Etta is affected by the fact that these are all things in her life, not just one of them. So many people can relate to at least one of these issues – I certainly did – which is why diverse books are so important. Even when Etta seemed a little too dramatic to me, I kept reading and loving this book because it just felt so personal and relatable to me, and that’s why I loved this book so much. We need more intersectionality like this!
Title: Not Otherwise Specified
Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown.
Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; and not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere— until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca seems like Etta’s salvation, but how can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself?
The latest powerful, original novel from Hannah Moskowitz is the story about living in and outside communities and stereotypes, and defining your own identity.