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“Not gay enough, not straight enough, not sick enough, not healthy enough. I am Etta Not Otherwise Specified.” (p. 77)
When I was a SFF con-goer I used to describe myself as, “too mundane for the freaks, and too freaky for the mundanes.” (Substitute muggles for mundanes and you get the picture.)
Reading Not Otherwise Specified took me back to those days, and all the others when I didn’t know where I fit. That, in a nutshell, is the story of Etta, a black, bisexual, food disordered, high school student who wants to dance and get out of Nebraska.
Etta doesn’t fit in with her clique, the Disco Divas who shunned her when she had sex with a boy. She doesn’t fit in with the others in her support group because she’s not sick enough to be given a specific diagnosis for eating disorders but not well enough to be considered healthy. This, by the way is where the title comes from, EDNOS – Eating Disordered, Not Otherwise Specified.
Throw into the mix an 14-year-old anorexic girl from a fundamental Christian family with a closeted gay brother who falls in love with a boy from another town, a new boy for Etta, and there’s conflict for all kinds of stories.
Sounds like the story of me. Only, I’m white, straight, well above high school age, and I kick my food addiction’s ass every day. But not fitting in, anywhere, that I know like it was braille.
The thing I like most about Moskowitz’s writing is how relatable she makes everything. Etta is snarky, fearful and fearless, broken and healer. Any one of her issues could belong to anybody else. Every human has fought with their sexuality, not fitting in, not knowing where they wanted to go, afraid of doing something true to themselves because it might alienate someone.
Having changed my relationship with food not quite a year ago, this really resonated with me. Read what Etta has to say about food disorders and recovery.
“Recovery was my choice, and sometimes it sucks like I can’t believe. But the truth is I am really damn positive about it …” (p. 7)
That might as well be me. Recovery was my choice, and, in the beginning, it sucked so hard I would sit in my car in the parking lot and cry because I was afraid leaving the parking lot meant I would head straight for food. And even while I was going through that, I knew I had made the right choice. So crying in the parking lot it was.
Which leads into another issue I identify with so deeply, body image. Etta wants to be a ballet dancer, has since she was a little girl. But, her body is not what anyone would call ballerina friendly. She’s too big and she lets a friend convince her that her body will never allow her to dance the way she wants. So they give Etta’s toe-shoes a proper burial in the backyard. Only, Etta keeps hearing their siren song, and with the help of her new friends, she decides to exhume them and audition for musical theatre school.
“I’m the girl who’s too loud and too much and too big for a lot of people. I’m the girl who got through two rounds of cutthroat auditions on her damn personality.” (p. 246)
Etta learns at 16 what it took me decades longer to figure out. I’m the woman who changed the way she relates to food, and gained a lot of confidence in the process. I’m also the woman who can be too loud, and too much for some. And, bonus points, I was too big for a lot of the world. So yeah, relating to Etta is easy.
In the end, I found myself rooting for them all. For recovery, living out of the closet, and dancing. Etta inspired me. Not Otherwise Specified also made me wish that I had known in high school what Etta learns.
Hannah Moskowitz deserves your readerly attention. Etta deserves an afternoon with you explaining how screwy life is for those who don’t fit into a nice, neat, little box. And follow Moskowitz on Twitter (@hannahmosk), because she’s a hoot.
#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.