From the award-winning author of Break and Teeth comes a raw and honest exploration of complicated identities in a novel about a girl living on the fringe of every fringe group in her small town.
Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown.
Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere—until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca might be Etta’s salvation…but can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself?
About the Author
Hannah Moskowitz is the award-winning author of the young adult novels Break; Invincible Summer; Gone, Gone, Gone; and Teeth; as well as the middle grade novels Zombie Tag and Marco Impossible. She lives in New York City. Learn more at HannahMoskowitz.com.
Read an Excerpt
Not Otherwise Specified
TIME FOR THE ETTA-GETS-HER-GROOVE-BACK PARTY. It would be easier if I’d been invited, or if this party actually existed, but whatever. I made my entire Halloween costume this year from a bag of sequins and a turtleneck. I can make things work.
Except right now even that enormous bedazzled turtleneck wouldn’t fit me, because I broke up with Ben the week before Christmas and started eating disorder treatment a few weeks before that. (Cut out toxic influences! my counselor said, and I’m still trying to figure out if Dump the boyfriend who weighs less than you! was a completely rational application of that, but whatever. I didn’t love him and he didn’t love me so minimal harm minimal foul.) And apparently those two things added up to an entire winter break of me on the couch eating jugs of ice cream off a wooden spoon because a regular spoon wasn’t big enough for the scoops I wanted to shovel down my throat. Stay classy, Ett.
I’m not freaking out about it. I’m really not going to go down that road. Recovery was my choice, and sometimes it sucks like I can’t believe, but the truth is I am really damn positive about it and yeah, I’m not under any delusion that ice cream binges are the key to a happy relationship with food, but it’s better than not eating at all. Except for the simple and really unemotional fact that I’m going to the judgmental hot zone that is a gay club tonight and none of my clothes fit.
“Kristina!” I’m halfway out of this halter top that wouldn’t even go past my boobs. I was about one-third boob before recovery (I was never one of those pretty little stick thing anorexics; I was a chubby black girl who never quite hit not-chubby), and now I’m quickly closing in on one-half.
“What?” Kristina is fifteen and gorgeous.
I finally wrestle the halter off and onto the floor. “Do you have anything I can wear?”
Her eyebrows come together. “You’re going out?” I haven’t been out of sweatpants in three weeks. Can’t exactly blame her.
“The Dykes are at Cupcake tonight. I’m gonna meet up.”
“You guys are talking again?” I don’t know if I ever really told Kristina about our falling-out or if she just heard about it at school before break started. We both go to Saint Emily’s Preparatory Academy for Young Women. It’s a small school because who the hell would ever want to go to Saint Emily’s Preparatory Academy for Young Women, so news travels fast.
“Not exactly. They’re all over Facebook posting what they’re wearing. I’m just gonna show up and be all contrite.”
“Suck face with some chicks to get back in their good favor?”
“Ding ding ding. Do you have anything?”
She thinks and says, “Yeah. Hang on,” and comes back with a red dress that is so completely Year Eight, Kristina, my dear. I try it on anyway, but even my boobs can’t make this sexy.
I say, “Anything, uh . . .”
“The best little sister.”
“Yeah, come on.” She brings me to her room, and I root through her closet until I find this tight black skirt that I think will fit, bless my baby girl’s hips, and this pink shirt that says “BITCH” on it in jewels.
“Uh. Later we’re going to be talking about why you have these.”
“What were you for Halloween?”
“. . . Right.”
• • •
Nebraska—all of Nebraska—has one thing going for it, one tiny pink little light in the middle of its giant mass of cornfield and suck, and it’s Club Cupcake, the grossest, most run-down piece of shit you can imagine. Big Xs behind the windows so you can’t see in, no name on the front, just this tacky-ass Christmas-light cupcake. I don’t even know if Cupcake is its real name. But for the past two years—since I started high school, since I got my fake ID, since I found this place where I actually belong—this place has been the sparkly little Barbie Dreamhouse we always wanted, filled with plastic guys and glitter, but with bonus sticky floors and girls who lick other girls. This place was our freaking castle.
Cupcake is (a) sketchy, and (b) the only gay bar in Schuyler, Nebraska (best known for its beef-processing plant—how I wish that were some sort of sexual euphemism), so therefore it is (c) packed. I’m all of five-foot-nothing, so finding the Dykes is going to be a feat, even though we always stand out. We’re called the Disco Dykes for a reason; we’re very throwback, hot pants and tie-dye, very vehemently seventies because when you’re five lesbians at an all-girls school, you have to be very vehemently something or else you start thinking about how everyone thinks you’re a sexual predator. Or, worse, you start thinking, the horrible beasts in this school are what girls are, these are the reason you had to come out to your parents and you have to put up with every other politician hating your guts. You did that because you apparently want to sleep with these girls, when the reality is that most times you want to push these girls down the stairs. (And bi the way, I was never a lesbian, and I told the Dykes that all the time, but there isn’t a Banjo Bisexuals group or whatever and anyway, Rachel and I were best friends since preschool, so it wasn’t as if I was going to turn down a group that gave me a chance to hang with her, to dance with her, to make out with her, and as long as I dated girls and shut up about boys it was never a problem.) The Disco Dykes are a Saint Em’s tradition. They’ve been around since it was founded. In the eighties. It’s like the most screwed-up little sorority for high schoolers. It’s so stupid, except it was totally my life.
I didn’t realize Ben would be some big political move. What’s ridiculous is that it’s not like I started dating a lacrosse-playing Young Republican. Ben was straight in name only, really, because I met him at a gay club and he did volunteer work with Pride Alliance, and aside from his ugly shoes and his weird hair and the way he’d slam me into walls and breathe on my neck, there wasn’t much straight about him. I actually met him here. He was with some gay friends of his, he was cute, it wasn’t a big deal—until I turned around and the Dykes had abandoned me there and I got to school the next day and they wouldn’t talk to me. I’m so incredibly far from defending their shitty behavior, but the truth is that second semester of junior year starts tomorrow, and I want some friends, damn it, and all-girls school is bad enough when you do have a pack.
Plus, you know. Rachel.
It makes us sound like we’re some cult, how I’m not allowed to date guys, but it really isn’t like that. We were people who were brought together by a common interest called making out with girls, but it’s not like we put up flyers, you know? We had to find each other. We had to be interested in each other. What I’m saying is that we had to look at each other.
We picked out earrings together. I had dinner at Isabel’s house. I cried on Titania’s lap during horror movies. I was Rachel’s whole world.
It would be so much easier if I hadn’t loved them.
No, it would be so much easier if they hadn’t loved me.
Except I can fix this. I’m back and better than ever, and since Ben and I never got to Facebook-official which means the Dykes have no way of knowing that we broke up, I’ll tell them and everything will back to normal. I drink vodka from the water bottle I snuck in because my says-I’m-twenty ID is good but my says-I’m-twenty-two ID is a waste-of-fifteen-dollars piece of shit, plus Cupcake’s just beer and wine anyway, and I’m not looking for something to sip. Pure liquid courage, thanks. I can’t believe I’m scared of these girls. They used to be my friends.
They are my friends. I’ll tell them Ben and I broke up, we’ll laugh about it, I’ll say I’ll never do it again and whatever maybe I won’t, maybe I’ll just stick with girls until college (until New York, until big city, until not Nebraska). That’s doable. It’s not reasonable, but that’s why I’m drinking.
I’ve circled almost the entire place and collided with almost ten glitter-doused gay boys before I see them. They’re perched on a cluster of armchairs tucked in by the bar. Natasha’s wearing rhinestone hot pants and a hat that I am not entirely sure is seventies, actually, Isabel’s in flares and sunglasses because Isabel is the biggest stereotype imaginable, and Titania’s in this tie-dye maxi dress that I have to admit I would kill for. They wear this shit all the time, but I only ever did it when I was with them. We keep this stuff in our lockers so we can change out of our uniforms right after school, and when I started dating Ben they broke into my locker and stole all my clothes. It would be funny if it weren’t ruining my life.
Okay, it’s still kind of funny.
Rachel’s not here.
Maybe that’ll make this easier. They very obviously do not look up when I come over.
“Hey.” I offer the water bottle to Natasha because she (it used to be me) is the ringleader if Rachel isn’t here and I should probably follow the pecking order since these girls have lately shown that they have the manners of wild animals. She takes it and stares at me while she drinks. This is either a good sign or a waste of vodka.
“Where’s Rachel?” I ask.
“Babysitting,” Isabel says, like I’m so stupid, like they’ve told me this a billion times and why wasn’t I listening. At least it’s probably true. Rachel has twin three-year-old sisters.
“Anyone good here tonight?” I say.
Natasha hands the bottle back. My hand is shaking. Christ.
“I like her,” I say, pointing to who-the-hell-cares. “I like fishnets. Reminds me of ham or something I can eat.” This is an old standby, these self-deprecating chubby-girl jokes, and I’m nervous as hell and I guess I’m falling back on old habits. Next thing you know I’ll be in the bathroom gagging up three hundred calories of vodka. (I will not be, do I look like a pushover?)
(Okay, maybe right now, shaking in front of my ex-best friends, maybe right now I do.)
Isabel says, “Something you can eat? You mean like a penis?” and Titania giggles.
“Cute,” I say. “Can I sit?”
Natasha says, “What are you even doing here, Etta?”
Stalking you. “What are you talking about?”
“This is a gay club.”
“You’re not really serious with this gay-exile thing, right? Jesus, I get it, you were mad.” You were stupid and out of line to be mad, but I leave that part out. “This isn’t really going to be a big deal, right? Hey, Ben and I broke up. We can pretend it never happened if it’ll make you guys feel better.”
“It’s not about us feeling better.”
“You’re actually serious.”
The music picks up, and Natasha raises her voice. It’s really hard to convince myself that she isn’t yelling at me. “This is hard enough as it is, and then you have to go and completely piss on everything we stand for. Did you miss the part where the heteros make our life shit? And now here you are slutting around with the first guy who’s nice to you, and what do you think that does besides make us all look like we’re just doing this lesbian thing for attention? I get enough of that bullshit from my brothers, thanks.”
“Do your brothers happen to mention how really mature you are?”
“Whatever. I’ll call Rachel later. We broke up, Tasha.”
“Yeah, well, the world’s full of boys.”
“Warn Rachel to change her number if you want.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that.”
Flawless comeback, Tasha.
“And by the way?” she shouts after me. And this time I think she is yelling at me. “ ‘Bitch’ is sexist gendered language and I’m pretty disgusted you decided to wear it right over your tits. And by the way?” She pauses there.
I can’t stand it. I turn around. “By the way what?”
“By the way,” she says. She’s smiling. “You always were a little bitch.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Oh man, the VOICE. In books where the voice is this strong, whether you enjoy the character whose head you're in or not is everything, and I loved hanging out with Etta. I loved her humor and her strength and her honesty and her pride and her journey. I loved that she tried to succeed and was willing to fail. There's no area of her life in which she's unilaterally one thing; even when it comes to something like letting other people dictate who she is, she both does and doesn't. She's so fabulously ever-changing, so remarkably and authentically adolescent, you just know that as unique as she is, there are going to be so many teen readers who are grateful to see themselves in her, and adult readers who needed to when they were teens. This goes firmly on my list of Books I'm Glad Exist. But man, there's not a lot I wouldn't do for a prequel novella about Etta and Rachel...
I've never read any of Hannah Moskowitz's books up until now, and after finishing this one, I'm not entirely convinced I should. Or at least not right away, and not for the reasons you're probably thinking. I just loved Etta's story so much that I want to keep her voice in my head for a while longer. Once her awesomeness wears off, I'll definitely check out some of the author's other works. :) It doesn't matter if you don't relate to the specific set of challenges Etta faces throughout the book. If you've ever felt like you don't really fit in anywhere, then you should read it anyway.
Amazing doesn't begin to cover it. Etta is larger than life and you need to listen to her story. This book is a love letter for girls everywhere who never feel like enough. For the girls who have fought in favor and against of achieving "perfection". Etta's story is for the ones that do not fit into boxes, and that refuse to be defined by others perception of them. With an incredible leap-out-of the page voice , NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED delves into the world of musical theatre, teenagers trying to figure their path, mental illness, being queer...and crushes stereotypes of each. This book is emotional, realistic and soso good. You won't regret reading it. (Trigger warning for eating disorders.) Nadia