Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review: Not Otherwise Specified

Not Otherwise Specified
By Hannah Moskowitz
Expected publication March 3, 2015 by Simon Pulse

Etta doesn't exactly fit in any of the boxes people want to put her. She longs to find a place where she belongs, but she's pretty sure it's somewhere in New York City, not small-town Nebraska. She's finally trying to be an Etta that she likes, but she's not sure if anyone else will like this version of Etta. Then she meets Bianca. Could she help Etta live up to her potential? Or does Bianca need saving of her own?

I was thrilled when I discovered this book. I've read a couple of Moskowitz's previous titles and really enjoyed them, so I was first simply excited to discover a new book by her. Then I read the description and became even more excited. Etta is a black, bisexual, recovering anorexic ballerina. THANK YOU, HANNAH MOSKOWITZ, FOR WRITING A CHARACTER LIKE ETTA!

Now, excited as I was, that doesn't mean I didn't struggle with this book. Because, honestly, I really did. Until probably halfway through, I struggled. And it's because of Etta's voice. I don't think this is really a criticism, though. Etta rambles. She jumps from one thought to another at the speed of light. She's bold and also unsure of herself. She wants to fit in but she wants to find out who she's really meant to be. Moskowitz has created such a unique voice with Etta; I just struggled to keep up with her. Once I finally just let myself get lost in her rambles and stopped trying to follow them word for word, things were much easier for me. And then I just got lost in the story.

I loved that Moskowitz was unafraid to create a character that is all the things Etta is - black, bisexual, ballerina, recovering from an eating disorder - and more. I think a lot of times, authors would be afraid of the dreaded "trying to cram too much into one book" criticism. Yes, there is a lot going on here. But I can't imagine Etta without all these pieces. People are complicated. They're not just one thing. They are also not strictly defined by their labels, an argument which Etta makes repeatedly throughout this book. I think this will really resonate with teen readers - it certainly made me think about the ways I label myself and how perhaps I should be more cognizant of my personal associations with labels.

While I think Etta is a phenomenal character who is greater than the sum of her parts, it is difficult for me not to focus on one part in particular, simply because it's the part to which I most relate. I don't think it's a stretch to say that bisexuality is almost an invisible identity. We don't see a lot of bisexual characters in books or in media, and when we do, they often play into stereotypes about bisexual people. I loved how perfectly Etta addressed the struggle of identifying as bisexual - not gay enough but not straight enough either. A traitor no matter who you end up with. If you're a bisexual woman and you end up marrying a man, will you still be accepted by the queer community? For that matter, do you have to shut off half your identity when you choose a life partner? Etta's struggle as a bisexually-identified person is not emphasized more than any of her other struggles; it's just the one that I felt the most deeply.

As for the story itself, it's a great look at the complicated intricacies of friendship and how one is a good friend without losing their own identity. While I think the plot mostly plays out pretty predictably, the ride is so enjoyable that I didn't mind at all. Another great book from Moskowitz, which once again leaves me waiting for more.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

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