Amanda Clay reviews Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz


Hold on to your hats, ladies! Have I got news for you! Hannah Moskowitz’s new book Not Otherwise Specified is an actual novel about an actual bisexual woman of color. That’s right! You heard correctly! Protagonist! Bisexual! Woman of color!  And it’s a good book!  This is like seeing a unicorn riding a dragon riding a giant squid.

Etta Sinclair is a girl with problems, but knowing who she is isn’t one of them. Who she is:  smart and talented girl with an ex she still loves, a barely controlled eating disorder, a discarded dream symbolized by the toe shoes buried in her backyard, and a burning desire to get out of Nebraska. Her problems: a pack of former friends who call themselves the Disco Dykes. Ever since Etta ‘betrayed’ them by dating a guy they have made life at their exclusive prep school hell, vandalizing her locker, posting photoshopped porn onto her social media, even occasional physical attacks.  Etta tries not to let it get to her, but that isn’t always easy.

Choosing instead to focus on the future, Etta befriends Bianca, a girl from her eating disorder support group, a girl more talented and far more fragile than she.  With the encouragement of Bianca and her brother, the three new friends prepare to audition for Brentwood, a prestigious New York school for the performing arts. Will Etta have the talent and the confidence she needs to take this risk? Will Bianca have the strength of body and mind? And what if there’s only room at Brentwood for one of them?

Told in Etta’s sharp, unforgettable voice, Not Otherwise Specified is the book that has been missing from the LGBT-YA canon. Etta’s bisexuality isn’t a question, not up for debate.  Indeed she spends a good bit of the narrative making it perfectly clear that she is real and valid and owes no one an explanation nor any selfish form of loyalty.  The relationships she builds, restores and discards all come from and contribute to the whole person that she is.

The supporting characters—friends, enemies, family—are all well drawn and the Brentwood audition storyline is the perfect backdrop, offering everyone plenty of room to struggle and shine.  Find this book, read it, pass it on. You won’t be sorry.