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Book Discussion: Not Otherwise Specified

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz17900792

Summary

Etta is dealing with a mess of things in her life – her best friends have kicked her out of their group for owning her bi identity (instead of sticking strictly to lesbians), she stopped dancing ballet – her one true love, and she has decided to face her anorexia and work for recovery. In the middle of this, she meets Bianca – someone unlike anyone she ever imagined as a friend – and they work together towards recovery, acceptance, and an elite theater and dance school in New York City.

not otherwise specified

heart

Romance Score: Good Effort

Etta isn’t looking for something serious in Nebraska because her heart is still set on her ex. There is a relationship in the book and they both are aware that it isn’t something serious, which lets them be comfortable and honest with each other. There’s not a lot of actual romance to judge, but I appreciate the sex-positive attitude in the book and that Etta’s family does their best to support all her romantic relationships even if they don’t always get it perfectly right.

RosieFeminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta is strong and aware. Her experience as a black girl in Nebraska has given her some lessons. Her experience as bisexual in Nebraska has taught her some things – especially after her friends kick her out of their group (known as the “Disco Dykes”) because she wasn’t just into girls. Her experience as a black girl doing ballet taught her even more. The narrative is on point with so many things, it’s impressive (though it shouldn’t be). I especially liked the call out to toxic friendships. This goes back to something we say almost every podcast – when you’re in high school so many of your friendships are determined by who your parents are friends with, where you live, and what activities you do; it’s not necessarily up to actual personality match or liking each other. The other girls in the group are important, but Etta’s friendship and realizations about Rachel are even more important to see.

Through Etta’s experience with anorexia, blackness, bisexuality, and ballet, we get commentary on a long list of things that plague society (and especially girls and women of all varieties) and it’s actually talked about. Etta comes out on the other side with hard earned confidence  and a great perspective on being herself against all odds.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There are a lot of different kinds of people in this book and it all feels wonderfully natural (as it should). Etta is black, bisexual, a recovering anorexic, and wealthy. Rachel is Japanese, diabetic, and a lesbian. Bianca is white, anorexic, deeply faithful, and poor. James, Bianca’s brother, is white, gay, and poor. Etta’s group of friends are aggressively lesbian – they call hetero girls “breeders” – I’m not trying to push any lesbian stereotypes by calling them aggressive; they really are. It’s high school and they carve out their space in a very particular way and it’s not a very kind way, but they’re fighting the norm in Nebraska, so maybe that’s the only way they feel they can survive.

The characters have some very real conversations about what all these identities mean for them and within their social context. Etta and Mason in particular lay out the difficulties of surviving as “different” from what is understood as the “norm.” They talk about race and being bisexual and being gay, but the comments that stood out the most were the ones about economic privilege. It is rarer than rare to find that in mainstream books and I appreciate that Moskowitz took the time to point out that her main character has a lot of privilege through money even if she lacks it in other areas. That kind of awareness is missing in a lot of YA and it’s frustrating when the solution is “go to another school” or “get a new car” or “go to the fanciest doctors” because that’s not practical or possible for so many readers.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta’s voice is amazing and I loved the way her character came through in everything. I loved the awareness and social commentary throughout the story. I loved how her relationship with Bianca developed and that the book allowed Etta to interact with a large group of people rather than centering that one new person over all others. I will recommend this book to lots of people and I’m so glad I read it. I couldn’t give it a full A+ because, while I can appreciate the skill and amazing characterization, I didn’t exactly like the conversational style of the writing. I love Etta and her story, but this style isn’t for me.


Favorite Character

Kristina – Etta’s little sister is a bright, loving sister and I loved the way she stood up for and loved her sister completely. I wish we got a little more of her, but she was a bright little star even with her few moments.

Favorite Line

Pause to consider the fact that me dating a fourteen-year-old anorexic is okay but me dating a guy is not.

This book captures some of the absurd hypocrisies of our messed up culture while converting them to Etta’s particular situation.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! I really liked getting to know Etta and rooting for her as she works for recovery and figuring out what decisions are hers. There’s a lot packed into this book and it’s wonderful to see 1. characters that actually look like the world 2. a story that can get to some very deep places while still having fun.

Fun Author Fact

Moskowitz sold her first book to a publisher while she was still in high school. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? Also, she struggled with her own disordered eating and she identifies as queer, so this book counts as an #ownvoices read in several ways.

Read These Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sarah Farizan for more girls attracted to other girls and trying to deal or Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler (review coming soon!) for girls figuring out their identities while being under Hollywood’s eye.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Summary

Madeline has allergies – to everything. Really, she’s basically allergic to the world. Her house has an airlock entrance to ensure 18692431contaminants are removed before anyone comes to visit, the air filtration system could probably rival the space station, and Madeline is absolutely not allowed outside. With books and her online classes, she’s fairly content with life. But then! A new family moves in next door and Madeline’s attention is drawn to the outside world. She watches life unfold for her new neighbors, quickly falls for Olly, the parkour-jumping, hat-wearing, teenage guy and their relationship slowly pushes Madeline to reach for the world.

heartRomance Score: A+ Success Good Effort

Madeline’s love for Olly felt a little too fast, but then again – he’s the only boy around and she can stare out her window pining away all day if she wants, so it’s also totally plausible. After the initial butterflies, their relationship develops in the best kind of emotional swirl – I thought the late-night messaging and emails exactly replicated the fraught tension of “what did he mean by that period instead of an exclamation point” social-media, technology-driven “dating.” I thought some of their activities felt a bit hurried, but they also feel very in line with Madeline and her frenetic rush to feel and experience everything. They push boundaries, they take risks, and, ultimately, they make each other reach for a better life. EDIT: I reduced this down because, while I thought it was believable, I’m sad that we couldn’t get two teens taking a serious health condition seriously.

RosieFeminism Score: A+ Success

Madeline is smart and funny and she goes after what she wants – in more ways than one. She doesn’t let her allergies make her bitter. She dreams of accomplishing great things and, even though she may never go outside, she works to understand the world beyond her house. I think she’s a great example of a teen making choices for herself, and knowing that sometimes, you really do have to do things for you. While I could take points away because of Madeline’s mother, I think it’s important to see how tragedy can break a person and how coping (well or poorly) takes many different forms. And, Olly’s mom is a side character without even a name, but with her son’s help, she manages to break free of a truly awful situation and stand up for herself.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort
You’re Trying

From the summary and character descriptions this looks like it should be an A+. Madeline is Afro-Asian with an illness that keeps her locked inside all the time. Her racial/ethnic diversity is central to her character and the other main figures in her life are only her mother (Asian) and her nurse (Latina). When Olly comes on the scene, she’s pretty fascinated by his white family – and by him. I appreciate the beginning of the book – the portrayal of someone suffering from a disease that inhibits her interaction with the everyday and what that means for creating an internal world, the few relationships she’s permitted, and her ability to experience life (or not) was well developed. I thought the relationship with Carla, the nurse, a great illustration of how long-term illness brings other people into your life. I thought her mom’s reaction to one of Carla’s decisions also interesting – highlighting the difficult interplay of professionalism and genuine care/love that caregivers balance. However, I found the end a bit of a let down. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but, it’s really hard. So, if you would like to avoid spoilers, skip to the Awesome Factor section (but you really shouldn’t if you care about good rep).

So, I’m going to start by saying that I guessed the end about halfway through. I think I’m a cynic though, because other reviewers are mostly surprised. My issue with the end (SPOILERS): by having the disease be a lie, it feels a bit like the “magical cure.” A character struggling with disease is, ultimately, not actually diseased and she can find happiness and love because she isn’t “abnormal” or “sick.” I also find it frustrating that she discovers the truth because she steps out into the air for a boy instead of doing some sleuthing at home. While I found Olly and Maddy’s relationship sweet and steamy, it makes me sad that a guy was the instigator for finding the truth. I think this would have been even more powerful had Maddy truly had SCID and had to navigate allergies, the outside world, and living more fully with Olly by her side. Of course, that would have been a different story, so…it is what it is. EDIT: I’m really didn’t like the end when I posted the original review and now, it’s even more powerful distaste for this “twist.” To negate the disability rep, to make her treat her life as unworthy of living unless she’s living it like other people, and to have it basically be a story about parental abuse…just all around dislike. And, I’m really sad that this is getting so much love and a movie and a snapchat filter (like…how much money is marketing throwing at this??!?!] For more detailed review of what this means for disability rep, check out this review at Disability in Kid Lit and this review on Goodreads.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort You’re Trying

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to readers who are looking for something sweet, tingly, and exciting. [EDIT: This book STILL (1 year later) sits with me because the ending made me so unhappy. I rescind my recommendation. Please read the disability section for reasons.] Maddy is a bright girl and she’s funny. I like her sense of humor and her realistic twists of insight mixed with optimistic yearning. I thought the characterization was great – neither Olly or Maddy feel flat and, while we don’t get a lot of Olly’s life outside of his interactions with Maddy, he still feels believable, if a little too perfect for her. Madeline’s interactions with her mother and Carla were special – highlighting the difficulty of growing up with only two people in your life and how that can be both intensely supportive and suffocating. Overall, it’s a book about making decisions for yourself, taking a leap of faith, and believing that love is worth having. [BUT, is love worth having over an actual life????]


Favorite Character

Carla – she tries to do her best for Maddy no matter what while remaining within the professional guidelines of her job. She’s been around for most of Madeline’s life and she has ideas about things, but she does whatever she can to make Maddy’s life easier and happier while still giving her hard truths.

Favorite Line

“A universe that can wink into exist can wink out again.” Maddy has lots of quick little lines and I’m sure others about the joy and happiness with Olly will catch reader’s eye, but I thought this one captures it while adding the sadness of reality.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Ultimately, yes, I recommend this book. [Edit: Again, I rescind this. I just find the ending too problematic.] It was a fun read and I enjoyed Maddy’s perspective. The book is mixed-media, too, so you get drawings, emails, messaging conversations, and sketches, not just text. I always find this type of thing interesting – some people love it, sometimes it’s gimmicky. Here I think it generally works to illustrate Maddy’s limited exposure to the outside world. This is a sweet, fun taste of first, intense love and it’s tingly in the best way while still making you cheer for Maddy’s strength.

Fun Author Fact

This isn’t about Yoon (sorry!), but I have to share this: When I was in elementary school, my aunt sent me a t-shirt from Hawaii (where she lived). It had the humhumnukunukuapua’a on it and I wore it every Tuesday. I loved that shirt and I loved the fish’s mention in this book.

Read These Next

I’ve heard that Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall provides better representation. The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis for a story about a girl struggling to accept her disability and (according to Goodreads) a surprising revelation or Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy for a book about self-acceptance, fighting expectations, and confidence.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received her copy of Everything, Everything through NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review.

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, Romance

Book Discussion: A Harvest of Ripe Figs

A Harvest of Ripe Figs by Shira Glassman

Summary

Shulamit is queen and trying to balance her kingdom’s expectations and new motherhood. What starts as a small disagreement between merchants slowly grows into a deeper mystery involving theft, assumed diva-fights, and misused magic. As the Queen tries to solve the crime, we learn more about her partner, Aviva, her bodyguard duo, and a dragon.


heartRomance Score: Good Effort

This is definitely more New than Young Adult – there’s sexy times that don’t fade to black and the relationships are established; there are definitely stomach flutters from the couples, but it’s more the “I’m super into you and know everything about” kind of flutter rather than the “young love super exciting new relationship” flutter.

Rosie

Feminist Score: A+ Success

There’s a queen without a king and she’s open about her motherhood – that’s pretty awesome to begin with. There’s also women merchants, two talented lady musicians, and strong women advising the queen. The one man that tries to diminish women in the story is caught and punished and the women band together to support one another. The wider population wants to believe that the two musicians are divas fighting against each other, but we see them come together to strengthen each other instead.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There’s a lot of diverse stuff going on here: a Jewish culture, a lesbian queen with an active relationship, a disabled bodyguard, diversity in skin tone/race, and a  lady-warrior as well (although the wider population reads her as a gay man and is totally ok with that, too). Additionally, there’s all kinds of body shapes, a magical gender transition, and a chronic illness. There’s a lot going on here, but it feels organic and the people and relationships are just as sweet, kind, and supportive as the ones we get in more main-stream books. Extra nice to see a healthy, happy queer relationship without tragedy involved.

wow iconAwesome Score: Good Effort

This book has a great premise and the characters are interesting. I want to know more about Shulamit’s kingdom and her people, but I felt like some pieces were underdeveloped and a bit shallow in places. Even so, there were a lot of really important things going on in this book: a healthy, lesbian relationship portrayed through the day to day, healthy portrayals of sex from different viewpoints, and support to a child that didn’t receive it from his family. In addition to the “important” things, this is also just a great story with characters you can feel invested in. Overall, I really enjoyed getting into this world and want to know more about the dragon-allied Queen and her next hurdle as a ruler.


Favorite Character

Riv – she’s smart talking, strong, and dedicated to her queen. She’s also pretty bad-ass and her relationship with Isaac is sweet and equality-based.

Favorite Line

Sorry again guys – I was doing so well! 😦

Is this worth a book hangover?

I really want to recommend this because it has so many great themes and characters and is a fun, light read – perfect for when you need a distraction from life. It didn’t catch my attention fully, but I know it will hit the spot for some readers – especially those that don’t often see themselves in books. The world and characters are really interesting – it’s just slightly less developed than the fantasy I’m used to. Even so, I will definitely keep this and Shira Glassman in mind for future recommendations!

Fun Author Fact

Shira Glassman is one of the part-time moderators of Writing With Color, an incredible resource for writers trying to make their worlds more realistic (by incorporating diverse cultures, races, and religions). It’s also a great tool for readers, as it helps you understand what tropes and stereotypes are harmful – especially ones you aren’t aware of.

Read These Next

Goodreads recs The Errant Prince by Sasha L Miller for similar themes in fantasy and I’ve heard lots and lots of good things about Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Chat: Fangirl

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Summary

Cath and her twin identical sister, Wren, are about to start college together. While Wren is outgoing and excited about her new life, Cath is a little less sure. She likes her old life, most importantly, her online life as an extremely popular fanfiction writer. She doesn’t want to make new friends, and would prefer to live in her dorm room eating peanut butter and completing the final Simon Snow (Harry Potter) book before the real author. But between her outgoing roommate and the strange boy who hangs around her dorm, Cath may be forced out of her comfort zone after all.

Favorite Character

Cath. I empathize with her insecurity and angst about college, and her excitement about her online world.

Favorite Line

“The whole point of fanfiction is that you get to play inside somebody else’s universe. Rewrite the rules. Or bend them. The story doesn’t have to end. You can stay in this world, this world you love, as long as you want, as long as you keep thinking of new stories.”

I had a hard time picking just one quote, but this one is one of the best. Cath (and Rowell) captures the feeling/angst/excitement of reading and writing fanfiction perfectly.

Fun Author Fact

Rainbow Rowell is writing Carry On, the fanfiction that Cath wrote in Fangirl. The book will be published on October 6, 2015. As discussed in the podcast, both of us are very curious about the new publication. Will it be like Harry Potter? Will we see a lot of the story plot seen in Fangirl, or will it be completely new? I’m excited to see where this goes!

Read these next:

If you’re a fan of Rowell’s writing, check out Eleanor and Park. The plot is different – it’s an interracial love story set in the 1980s – but her writing style and character development are excellent.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Both of us liked the book. Anisha think’s it’s a hangover book, and Jess is a little less sure (though she’s glad she read it!).

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Filed under Contemporary, podcast, Romance