Before I get started on today’s blook report, I want to take a moment to say that this book and the discussion that I’m going to have about it directly addresses the severity and stigma around eating disorders. This may be triggering for some who have struggled or are struggling with disordered eating, and I would like to offer this as a content warning. I’d also like to say that if you’ve reached your rock bottom, and you need someone to talk to, please reach out to the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) helpline at 1(800)931-2237.
With that said, let’s jump into Etta’s small-town Nebraska world and her aspirations to be larger than where she’s from. Not Otherwise Specified is a journey for both Etta, the black, bisexual EDNOS survivor who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, and Bianca, a fourteen-year-old anorexic girl Etta knows from her group therapy.
From the moment that I started the book, I identified with Etta. Being black is ostracizing enough, and in professions like dance, performing arts, and ballet, there’s very often rampant racism that makes it difficult to break into the field. Etta is no stranger to rejection: her ballet teachers told her she was too heavy, too undisciplined; her “friends” (the Disco Dykes) told her that her bisexuality made her an outcast in their gay-only in-group. The only people who don’t seem to judge Etta are the members of her eating disorder support group and the friends she makes because of Bianca.
I’ll be honest, the first description of Bianca gave me the same pang of both hurt and jealousy that Etta experienced. She saw her and wanted immediately to both protect her and be her, something that many people with eating disorders struggle with: they want to be better and healthy, but still maintain this perception of an ideal body that is frail and weak. I appreciated how Moskowitz didn’t shy away from these feelings, but rather broke them down and explained Etta’s reaction in a blunt and sympathetic light. In doing this, Etta remains human in what otherwise seems to be a story where the protagonist ends up getting everything she wants–and a few things she didn’t expect.
That isn’t to say that Etta doesn’t struggle.
However, even in the struggle, Etta is allowed to have sex and relationships with whomever she chooses and has her own autonomy, regardless of what other people have to say about her. It’s also so nice to see bisexuality perfectly represented in having a pining for an ex and also relationships with boys. It was refreshing and I appreciated the candor with which high school seniors engage in sexual activity as near-adults.
The one part of the novel that really irked me was every single scene that the Disco Dykes were in. I understand that they’re a vehicle for showing what people will put up with in order to have friends, but I was angry just the same. As such, I really didn’t have a ton of sympathy for Etta’s supposed best friend, Rachel. If she was truly a friend, it wouldn’t matter that Etta was bisexual, and the revelation wouldn’t have rocked their relationship so tumultuously. Rachel loved an idea of Etta but never took the time to ask and learn who she really was, so I’m unsatisfied. I’m glad, though, Etta doesn’t waver in going to the special performing school, even if Rachel is hesitant.
My favorite character is Bianca because you get to see a pure and undiluted perspective. She’s innocent but also jaded and she wants to be healthy but is struggling. To watch her through Etta’s eyes is amazing, and the last bit about the snow globes brought tears to my eyes.
Some of the language in the novel is repetitive because it’s made to seem like it’s teenagers talking, but all of the “so totally not” pulled me out of the story. It also jumps between very common words and vocab to sometimes intellectual language and so there seems to be a disconnect.
At the end of the novel, I liked the possibility of new things and the vagueness about Etta’s ex-girlfriend. It left room for endless possibilities and was an exciting end to Etta’s tale.
Overall, this is a great read that shows you a couple perspectives on eating disorders/anorexia/the families of people who have eating disorders. I give it a 7.5/10 and I’m glad I bought it. I don’t know if I’ll reread this because parts of it were difficult to get through emotionally but I’m glad that I read it and would definitely recommend it to others.
Join me next week when I dig in deep with Stephen King’s memoir On Writing.