Ann Elise Monte's Reviews > Not Otherwise Specified

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
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really liked it
bookshelves: lgbtqiap-plus, poc-and-indigenous, disability, mental-health-bingo

I read Hannah's debut novel years ago, back when I was a teen myself. It wasn't my favourite, but it was good enough that I'm still interested in reading more of her reading, especially now that she's developed a bit as a writer.

Details at a glance:

Pairings: M/F, F/F, side M/M

Sexual content: Non-explicit sex

Rep: Plus-sized Black (with dreadlocks) bisexual MC recovering from an eating disorder, Japanese diabetic lesbian supporting character/kind-of-LI, gay supporting character, lesbian supporting characters

Ownvoices: Yes for bisexuality (at the time; author's ID has since changed) and eating disorder.

Content warnings: Ableist language, bimisia/biphobia (not condoned, horizontal aggression), eating disorders (sometimes detailed, could be SUPER TRIGGERING), discussion of the medicalisation of weight and its connection to anorexia diagnosis, talk of conversion therapy, underage drinking, slut-shaming (not condoned)

***

First of all, I want to say that the cover for this book is a little misleading. While it's great they have a black model on the cover, what it doesn't show is that Etta is described as chubby. This is important, because it's a factor in her body image issues relating to ballet, since most ballet dancers are much taller and thinner than she is.

I really like Etta as a character. She has a strong personality but also a metric fuckton of insecurities. She can be extremely blunt in her narration, though she also holds a lot back when she speaks. Her ability to pick up on another character's queerness from the way he held his fork was pretty amusing, at least to me. Queer characters developing gaydar will forever be more fun than straight people/characters doing it, because for us it's more like YOU'RE ONE OF US rather than allocishets being like YOU'RE DIFFERENT.

Anyway, I was invested in Etta's happiness super early on. I was pissed off on her behalf a lot. As a singer who's watched a lot of dancers have to learn how to sing, I was also pretty damn sure she wasn't nearly as bad a singer as she thought she was. They very rarely are, in my experience, especially if they're as determined as Etta.

(PS: Everyone needs to listen to "At the Ballet" from A Chorus Line and appreciate how fucking hard the part Etta ends up singing really is. Girl has more talent than she knows.)

Another interesting thing with Etta is the portrayal of a toxic friendship. Her friend is controlling at times. She's the one who convinced her to give up ballet before the start of the story. Ballet can be a super shitty environment, especially for young girls struggling with body image, so while the friend wasn't exactly wrong, I did feel that she was being pretty damn controlling about it. Etta does come to terms with the toxic friendship later on, though. Obviously I'm not going to spoil things, but I did find Etta's decisions at the end a huge relief. I'll get into the other toxic friendships a bit later on since they're tied in with a larger topic.

It was also interesting that the girl Etta was in love with is never actually seen on the page.

The whole thing with the fourteen-year-old Bianca got a bit weird at times, with characters assuming she and Etta were a couple (Etta is seventeen so WHAT NO) and there are also a few lines from Etta's internal monologue hinting that she almost wishes they were. It's super weird and kind of uncomfortable. It is all kind of resolved in the end and it's obvious that there's nothing romantic going on, but there were a few times I was genuinely concerned where the story was going. Etta does call out this expectation in her narration at one point, putting it in opposition with the fact that her dating a guy is considered worse than dating a fourteen-year-old in the eyes of her former friends.

The weirdness aside, I really did appreciate Bianca's storyline. She's super religious and has been fed all that being gay is wrong bullshit all her life, but she tries really hard to accept her gay brother and even pushes him to talk to a guy he likes. The shift in Etta's perceptions of her in general is also interesting, given Etta kind of romanticises her anorexia quite a bit early on. It takes Bianca falling from her pedestal a bit for Etta to stop describing her in poetic terms and think of her more as a person. If that makes sense.

Etta's engagement with bi stereotypes was also super interesting. Etta likes sex. She refers to herself as a slut on more than one occasion, and other characters also use the word against her. There's a section where Etta sarcastically says she's "awesome for the community" because she fits some bi stereotypes, which serves as a reminder of the way individuals are often expected to act as representatives for their marginalisations.

Okay, so I guess I have to mention the issue with the lesbian characters in more detail, since I kind of touched on it in the Bianca section. Firstly, I'm not trying to take away from any lesbians who were hurt by this book. However, as a bisexual, I feel it necessary to add my perspective given I share an identity with Etta, and with the author herself (at the time; she IDs differently now), and therefore have some understanding of where she's coming from.

Basically, there's a clique in Etta's high school called the Disco Dykes, which is made up of queer girls who get into the whole 70's aesthetic and it's something of a legacy group that has existed for decades at this school. When Etta gets involved with a dude, since she's bisexual and has been telling them this the whole time she was friends with them, she is aggressively ejected from the group and subjected to repeated bullying.

The thing is, bisexuals face a lot of bullshit in the LGBTQIAP+ community, largely from allocis LGs. While I can't speak for issues of lesbian rep in this book, I can say that their actions did speak to a lot of behaviour that I have witnessed and experienced. It's super common for allocis LGs to push bisexuals and pansexuals (and aces and aros) out of the queer community for not performing queerness to their specific standards, i.e. exclusively dating/fucking your own gender.

Furthermore, the issues with the lesbian characters in this particular instance revolve a huge amount on the cliquey nature of many friendship groups in high school. They've stuck together because of their shared attraction to girls. They really don't have anything else in common. On top of that, there is one girl really leading the bullshit against Etta and the other girls just kind of go with it.

A huge part of Etta's character development comes from realising that just because she has one thing in common with these girls (i.e. liking girls), doesn't mean they're supposed to be friends. Friends don't eject friends from their groups for being themselves, which is what has happened here. It's an experience most people can relate to; we've all been friends with people just because we were thrown together with them, not necessarily because we liked each other. And, while we don't like to talk about it, girls can be shitty to each other, especially to people who don't conform to expectations thrust upon us. Internalised misogyny is a hell of a drug, and the particular flavour of bimisia that is aimed at women is hugely tied up in the whole idea that women are considered dirty the instant a man touches them.

So, here's my take based on my own experiences with the queer community: Etta's experiences of bimisia at the hands of these girls read as pretty damn realistic to me when you take into the account the heightened nature of YA novel bullying in general. The attitudes that underpin the behaviour, that bi girls are less queer and even tainted the instant they have anything to do with a dude, are real attitudes that real people have in our community.

Now, with that aside, maybe I can get out of here without getting murdered.

This book is hard for me to give a Goodreads rating. I've been flitting between four and three stars this whole time. I think I'm gonna be generous and go with four, but the rating is probably more like 3.5. I hate being the kind of person who does half-star ratings, but I definitely think this is one that warrants it.

Anyway, I like Hannah Moskowitz's writing and am going to read more of it. There are usually a few issues that make it hard for me to rate, but I'll deal.
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Reading Progress

January 6, 2016 – Shelved
January 6, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
March 30, 2016 – Shelved as: lgbtqiap-plus
November 11, 2016 – Shelved as: poc-and-indigenous
December 31, 2017 – Shelved as: disability
December 31, 2017 – Shelved as: mental-health-bingo
January 5, 2018 – Started Reading
January 5, 2018 –
page 5
1.64% "This thing about conditional acceptance into the queer community is so relatable tbh"
January 5, 2018 –
page 9
2.96% "Well fuck this Natasha character"
January 5, 2018 –
page 15
4.93%
January 5, 2018 –
page 20
6.58% "A little creepy Etta

Surely this won’t be romantic"
January 5, 2018 –
page 27
8.88%
January 5, 2018 –
page 30
9.87% "Okay I understood some of of the ableist language is self-deprecating from a mentally ill person but that one is Not Cool"
January 5, 2018 –
page 37
12.17% "Omg relatable and I’m not even a mezzo"
January 5, 2018 –
page 47
15.46% "Why would you do barefoot pirhouettes outdoors. Do you wanna lose the skin on your feet. Also I’m pretty sure she’s in demi-pointe but it’s not clear in the book here lol"
January 5, 2018 –
page 50
16.45% "Okay I’m confusing myself so:

Mason. Straight dude. Not Bianca’s brother.

James. Gay? Is Bianca’s brother."
January 5, 2018 –
page 56
18.42% "My Fair Lady is a masterpiece and I will not tolerate this blasphemy.

Or maybe it’s just bc I saw that really good production Julie Andrews directed. SHE SHOULD HAVE WON THE HELPMANN IM SO ANGRY"
January 5, 2018 –
page 67
22.04% "Fucking yikes Rachel"
January 5, 2018 –
page 73
24.01%
January 5, 2018 –
page 82
26.97% "This is funny to me bc most of the super music theatre schools I’ve tried to get into are actually super dancy. Voice is a factor as well but dance is actually super hard to learn if you haven’t done it all your life"
January 5, 2018 –
page 91
29.93%
January 5, 2018 –
page 107
35.2% "I’m adopting Etta right after I fight these jerks for her"
January 5, 2018 –
page 112
36.84% "Sick burn. I might come back to this when talking about the way the bullying works"
January 5, 2018 –
page 114
37.5% "Ok that’s questionable"
January 5, 2018 –
page 122
40.13% "!!!"
January 5, 2018 –
page 141
46.38% "yeesh"
January 5, 2018 –
page 152
50.0% "Not sure how I feel about this bit"
January 5, 2018 –
page 168
55.26%
January 6, 2018 –
page 177
58.22%
January 6, 2018 –
page 192
63.16%
January 6, 2018 –
page 213
70.07%
January 6, 2018 –
page 219
72.04% "That was... a lot"
January 6, 2018 –
page 233
76.64% "This is the weirdest friendship"
January 6, 2018 –
page 233
76.64% ":’(

Also I keep forgetting Etta is 17 for some reason"
January 6, 2018 –
page 251
82.57% "!!!!!!!!!!"
January 6, 2018 –
page 255
83.88% "Thank fuck you recognise that"
January 6, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Roland (new) - added it

Roland Clarke I like this review, Ann Elise, as you explain so much about being bi. (I.m still struggling with the issue in my own writing - so thanks.)


Ann Elise Monte Roland wrote: "I like this review, Ann Elise, as you explain so much about being bi. (I.m still struggling with the issue in my own writing - so thanks.)"

I have heaps of posts on my blog here about this if you're interested in reading more.


message 3: by Roland (new) - added it

Roland Clarke Many thanks, Ann Elise. I will definitely read more as I see blog post to help authors.


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