The thing about this book is that I’m sort of surprised I loved it so much. I mean, it’s written in this stream of consciousness style, which, let me just tell you, is very much not my thing. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with it, because it generally feels very artificial or like the author was on a lot of drugs. That’s not the case with Not Otherwise Specified. Pretty much immediately, I was caught up in that VOICE. Etta’s voice is vibrant and real and she felt one hundred percent real to me.
My heart ached for Etta throughout this book. She’s a black, bisexual former ballerina struggling with an eating disorder in Nebraska. She’s the very definition of not fitting in, but also fitting in too much. What Etta hates more than anything is that she’s not otherwise specified. She can identify herself as having an eating disorder and as being bisexual, but everyone still puts her in these boxes. She hates that she doesn’t qualify by the technical definitions as anorexic, which just makes her feel like more of a failure, even more out of control, the same reason she gave up ballet which she loves so much.
"You’re not supposed to look at a girl’s body when she dances, not in that way. She’s supposed to be unobtrusive. She’s supposed to just be part of the music, and here I come in all attention-grabbing and ETTAETTAETTA and you can make that sound as awesome and special0snowflakey as you want but at the end of the day that’s not what people want ballerinas to be."
Etta sums herself up so well with this quote. She’s vibrant, full of life, and charismatic as hell. However, she tries so hard to fit in, like she did with the Dykes, her group of lesbian friends, who ejected her when she dated a guy, despite the fact she always said she was bi. She tried to be the ballerina that everyone wanted, but became so obsessed with control and how her body was wrong that she developed an eating disorder. Not Otherwise Specified is partially the story of Etta coming to terms with her Ettaness.
A big part of Not Otherwise Specified is about friendship. Friends, even when they love you, can be bad for you. Etta loved the Dykes, but they’ve turned on her and are bullying her. Even so, she kind of wants them back. It’s hard for her to let go, especially of Rachel. She makes a new group of friends through an audition for Brentwood Academy, a school for theater. They still all make mistakes with one another, but the difference between the friendship dynamics is stark.
Not Otherwise Specified gets dark. I mean, the issues are really heavy, but that’s counteracted by Etta’s voice, which is so full of life and humor. Etta doesn’t let things get her down for long; she’s really sweet and optimistic. She sticks up for people and cares so hard. Yes, it hurts, and I marked a lot of quotes for how much they saddened me but also struck this really honest chord. The ending, though, made me happy cry for the progress that’s being made.
I loved every moment of this book. I think it’s beautiful and important. READ IT READ IT READ IT.