Summary: 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? [Image and summary via Goodreads]
Review: Not gonna lie, I loved reading this book. I’m all about books with strong narrative voices, and Not Otherwise Specified definitely delivered. Etta, the main character and narrator, doesn’t fit into her small hometown in Nebraska. She’s black, bisexual, and recovering from an eating disorder. Still, she’s got confidence and strength to spare, and that carries through her engaging narration of her journey to get into Brentwood, a fancy theater school in New York, and her growing friendship with Bianca, another girl in her therapy group.
For the most part, the book manages to portray quite a few facets of Etta’s life with nuance. Etta’s former friends, known as the Disco Dykes, shun her for being too bisexual for them. Meanwhile, her mother is hesitant to embrace Etta’s identity. And, Etta is aware of how she stands out from her white townspeople, as well as the attitudes of people who don’t understand her struggles with her eating disorder.
I say “for the most part” for a reason — Etta occasionally goes off-voice and says something unexpected, such as “you’re being such a heterophobe”, or defending electroshock therapy. Considering Etta’s sharp narrative voice and confident embracing of her sexual orientation, it’s bizarre to read something like an accusation of heterophobia (surely she meant biphobia?). The fact that Etta is such a fleshed-out character makes these kinds of off-voice moments all the more jarring…
Aside from all that, Not Otherwise Specified was an enjoyable read. I would have liked several plot threads to have been expanded on, and I hope there’s a sequel to follow up on these things. Plus, I can’t get enough of Etta herself. Etta’s passion for dance, and the musical theater references sprinkled throughout, really make the book. These details, as well as Etta’s character, make the book one worth reading.
This is definitely a book that hits the top of my list of distinct teenage narrative voices. I will definitely be looking up Moskowitz’s other books to read when I have the chance. Read Not Otherwise Specified if contemporary, realistic YA fiction is your thing!
Recommendation: Get it soon! This book comes out March 3rd, 2015.