Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
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.
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.
Feminist 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 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.
Awesome 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.
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.
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
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.