A copy of this novel was provided by Simon & Schuster for review via Edelweiss.
Not Otherwise Specified manages to tackle a lot of important and real issues without being an “issue book”, which is so important. I’m pretty much going to talk about the main themes that stood out to me when reading Not Otherwise Specified, because that’s how I roll.
1. Etta is bisexual, and open about it. She’s not hiding it from anyone, she’s open about ogling pretty boys and pretty girls alike. And I LOVED this. But Etta’s acceptance of herself, and the fact that she owns her sexuality in no way means that it was easy for her. Her friends ditched her because they’re lesbians and don’t believe Etta is “gay” enough to hang out with them. It was pretty petty and cruel, and makes Etta question herself, and think about how being bi is different to being gay and straight, because there are assumptions made based on whoever she’s with. She has a lot of painful thoughts about this, and how if she marries a guy the queer community won’t want her anymore. This broke my heart into pieces.
2. Etta is also recovering from an eating disorder, but being in recovery doesn’t mean that everything is better. She’s worried about her weight, and food – but she’s also happy with herself. And I think this is pretty accurate, whether or not you’re recovering from an eating disorder. Sometimes you feel good in your own skin, and sometimes you’re overwhelmed with fear about how you’re perceived by others.
3. Etta’s sexually active and owns it. Likes it. And I think this is SO IMPORTANT. I think way too often in YA girls are supposed to be these precious little creatures who’ve never even thought about sex, let alone wanted it and liked it. And it’s such complete bullshit that I was happy to finally have a female YA character that wanted and liked sex. *cheers all 'round*
4. Bianca is struggling with her brother, James (CUE ALL THE LOVE), being gay, and her religion. Whilst I couldn’t relate to this at all (being not at all religious), I appreciated this thread of the story. She loves her brother, and she doesn’t condemn him for being who he is, but she’s been taught all these things by the religion that she also loves. So it’s hard for her to come to terms with it all, but she tries and that’s the thing I took away from this. That even though she was uncomfortable and scared – she loves and supports James anyway. I was proud of her for this.
5. Be yourself and unapologetic about it. Etta has her insecurities, but she also knows who she is, and owns it (like her sexual activity and bisexuality). Her dancing plays a huge role in this, also with respect to her weight, and the way she comes to terms with it in the last few chapters is beautiful. I really wanted to be Etta’s best friend, to be honest, because she has such an effect on everyone around her, and I think that if I had a friend like that – I could learn from her. Because she’s flawed and amazing all at the same time. She’s insecure and proud. She’s such an enigmatic and real character, and it was great.
Now there are things I haven’t even mentioned here – like Etta and Rachel (her best friend) and how incredibly intense and confusing their relationship is – like Bianca being right in the throes of her eating disorder, and how everyone acts about that, and how it isn’t right but they’re trying so hard – like how there’s bullying, and it’s disgusting – like how Etta realises the things she’s done wrong (most with respect to her sister throughout the book) and ACKNOWLEDGES them – and how the person that Etta is in love with isn’t even a character, and you don’t know ANYTHING about her, and how that’s completely awesome.
There’s so much in this book, and so much of it is done so well. Not Otherwise Specified is a freaking great novel. It’s fabulous. Go read it.