Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz (Simon Pulse, 3 March 2015)
Ahhh, NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED, I don't know how long I've been waiting for a book like you. And you definitely delivered.
Etta is seventeen and lives in Nebraska. She's bisexual. She's black. She has an eating disorder, but she's not thin enough to be diagnosed with one properly. So it's just "eating disorder not otherwise specified". She used to do ballet, but not anymore. When she dates a guy for the first time, all her lesbian friends abandon her. When she breaks up with him, her friends still refuse to let her back into their group – in fact, they start bullying her. But Etta learns that there are open auditions coming up for scholarships to Brentwood, the dream school for musical theatre kids in NYC, and when she decides to take part, she makes some new friends and realises that maybe she's meant for something different to what she's always dreamed about.
NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED is a very earnest kind of book. This is the kind of book where the voice is everything, and Etta's voice is perfect. It's strong and funny and sincere. It's an optimistic book and it's full of hope but it also shows you that not everything is easy and not everything can be fixed, and I liked that. Even though I did think that the ending was kind of a bit too abrupt, I recognised that unlike a lot of books where I complain about the ending being too easy, this isn't the case here.
Etta makes a new friend called Bianca, who is anorexic, and I loved seeing how the book explored how Etta felt about Bianca, who was everything she wanted and didn't want to be: someone so much skinnier, someone who seemed to have "succeeded" at her eating disorder instead of someone like Etta, who's still kinda chubby despite having an eating disorder. It was a painfully complex subject: how Etta wished she could be like Bianca but at the same time recognised that Bianca was the opposite of what she wanted to be. The book shows how frustrating it is, wanting to get better and not wanting to get better at the same time, how there's no quick fix, how the path towards recovery is long and hard.
I did find it a little annoying though how Etta was constantly going on about how Bianca was only fourteen. I get it. You can stop repeating that. It just seemed like Etta was almost babying Bianca at times. She's fourteen! That's only three years younger than you. Stop acting like she's only like, ten.
Etta used to be best friends with Rachel before she got ejected from their friend group for not being gay enough, and Etta doesn't quite know how to reach out to Rachel again. Etta and Rachel's friendship was so beautifully complicated. I love the heavy history behind it all, the way Etta and Rachel grew up together and were always there for each other when no one else was, how their love for each other is so deep and profound and strange, not like a friendship kinda love but not like a romantic kinda love either, but something altogether different, intense and frightening, and how Rachel's actually very selfish and not all that good for Etta and she's holding Etta back because of her own insecurities. I really wanted to see more their friendship, because it was intoxicating, bad and good all at once.
My favourite aspect of this book was definitely Etta's bisexuality and how that was handled. She's very confident about her bisexuality and she talks about it all the time and what it means to her, to be bisexual and ostracised by her friends because she's not gay enough, but she's not straight enough for straight people either. And god, these lines from the book:
Rainbow kids are going to yell “breeder” at me when I’m out with a boy and they’re never going to know I’ve done all the shit that they have. They’re not going to know that I know what it’s like to be gay in goddamn Nebraska.
I almost cried, I could relate to Etta so hard. Because being with a boy doesn't make her any less bisexual. She's still bisexual and she's dated girls and she might date girls again. She's gone through all the things that her lesbian friends have, but the moment she dates a boy, that all becomes invisible to other people. But not to her, because her experiences have shaped who she is, because her past is a part of her identity, because she knows who she is. She's Etta, and she is enough. She is more than enough. It means so much to me to see a bisexual girl as a main character in a book, saying out loud that she's bisexual and telling other people what that means. To see her fight for her dreams, fighting for a better life, for a way out of Nebraska, out of the place where she seems to be the only bisexual person for miles. To see her, a black, chubby girl, dancing ballet among all these skinny white girls.
To see Etta Not Otherwise Specified conquering the world when the world doesn't know quite what to make of her and the way she doesn't fit into their preconceptions. That's a sweet, sweet feeling.