Not Otherwise Specified

Moskowitz, Hannah. 2015. Not Otherwise Specified. New York: Simon Pulse.

A Black girl with locs wearing a black and white dress and smiling.

Stuck in a Christian all-girls school in a small town in Nebraska, Etta is lucky to have a small community, the Dykes, held together by their common marginalization. But when she dates a boy, she is not only cast out of the group but bullied mercilessly by them. As a bisexual, she doesn’t fit with the lesbians or with the straight kids.

Etta has more to deal with than not being gay enough. She’s also a Black girl in an overwhelmingly white town, in recovery from an eating disorder, and recently dropped out of ballet because she isn’t thin enough. Despite these hardships, though, she maintains a positive attitude, attends an eating disorder recovery group, and decides to audition for a performing arts school in New York.

A new friend from the eating disorders group is also preparing to audition, and the two decide to practice together. In the process, they develop a supportive friendship, giving singing advice and accolades as well as encouraging healthy eating.

I liked this book. Etta is a great character with a big personality. It’s rare to find bisexuals in fiction, and even rarer to find Black queer women in fiction, and the author manages to develop a strong character without tokenizing these identities. And while this is an “issues” book, it’s unique in that the bullying is not because of Etta’s queerness, but because she is not queer enough for her former lesbian friends. This is sadly a common experience, but one that is seldom represented in fiction.

Strong trigger warning for eating disorder discussion, including calorie counts and weight numbers. Milder trigger warning for bullying, including non-graphic physical bullying.

About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, and Legend Tripper
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