Review: THINGS I CAN’T EXPLAIN by Mitchell Kriegman

unknownTHINGS I CAN’T EXPLAIN by Mitchell Kriegman Thomas Dunne Books, November 2015 ~ 5 Stars

Blurb: A complete re-imagining of the 1990s television hit Clarissa Explains it All as 20-something Clarissa tries to navigate the unemployment line, mompreneurs and the collision of two people in love.

She was a smart, snappy, light-hearted girl who knew it all at fourteen and let television audiences everywhere know it. Now a woman in her late twenties, her searching blue eyes are more serious, but mostly amused by the people around her. The gap-toothed smile that made her seem younger than she really was is gone, but she still lightens up the room. Her unpredictable wardrobe rocks just like when she was a kid, but her fashion sense has evolved and it makes men and women turn their heads.

After leaving high school early, Clarissa interned at the Daily Post while attending night school. At the ripe old age of twenty- two she had it made – her own journalism beat (fashion, gender politics and crime), an affordable apartment in FiDi and a livable wage. She was so totally ahead of the game. Ah, those were the days! All three of them. Remember the Stock Market Crash of 08? Remember when people actually bought newspapers? All of Clarissa’s charming obsessions, charts, graphs, and superstitions have survived into adulthood, but they’ve evolved into an ever-greater need to claw the world back under control. Her mid-twenties crisis has left her with a whole set of things she can’t explain: an ex-boyfriend turned stalker, her parents’ divorce, a micro relationship with the cute coffee guy, java addiction, “To-Flue Glue,” and then there’s Sam. Where’s Sam anyway?

Things I Can’t Explain is about knowing it all in your teens and then feeling like you know nothing in your twenties. It is an entertaining and must-read sequel to all fans of Mitchell Kriegman’s Nickelodeon TV show, Clarissa Explains It All.

Review: Clarissa Darling, a character made famous in the television sitcom, Clarissa Explains It All, returns in this New Adult novel trying to deal with life as a ‘wanta-be’ grownup. It really isn’t working for her since her parents separated, her brilliant, younger brother disgraced himself ending up in prison after ripping off the Russian mob, her newspaper job died with the economy and her ex-boyfriend has become her stalker while her childhood BFF, Sam has vanished – perhaps to the wilds of the world’s oceans – it’s never quite clear. Clarissa definitely has issues. That’s even more obvious when her parents, yes together, arrive for a surprise visit. One would think it might last longer than a few hours since they’ve traveled from home to New York City, but it’s not. They want to meet her boyfriend, yes the stalker and that’s Cso not happening. Clarissa hastily introduces them to her favorite barista, a hot guy named Nick who happens to be filling in for the coffee stand’s owner, a friend on deployment in Afghanistan.

This makes Nick even more engaging as an appropriate love interest, especially when he jumps in and plays the part of Clarissa’s new “boy-toy” which includes going to dinner with her parents. Problems arise because he actually has a “real” girlfriend, a rough, tough “rocker girl” that Clarissa just knows is all wrong for him, but he apparently doesn’t understand that. Her friends encourage her to follow up with him and see if that relationship will last. She does. This doesn’t seem a very intelligent choice. How does she know the rocker won’t assault her?

As a character, Clarissa comes across as sweet, naïve and charming with zip in the way of self-preservation. It’s beyond time for her to grow up. At her age she should start judging situations for herself, make decisions and follow through. She’s able to do this with her ex, so why not with Nick? She also needs to stand up to her folks, not find herself locked into attending the wedding of her worst enemy from high school.

Of course, this does allow her to reconnect with Nick, her supposed boyfriend who agrees to attend that wedding with her. This creates even more problems and a reasonable person would cut the ties to Nick, but not Clarissa. Yes, he’s a decent person, but he’s also a wuss and it makes the reader wonder what Clarissa sees in such a spineless wonder. Yes, he’s hot – but, but, but, when will she be adult enough to stop judging by appearances?

A hero, whether male or female, ought to have some basic courage, integrity and honor either at the beginning of the story, but definitely by the end of the quest. Clarissa keeps making the same mistakes again and again until the reader wonders what it will take for her to learn the definition of insanity, i.e. making the same choices repeatedly and expecting different results. She’s the proverbial train-wreck of a character and it’s a sign of Mitchell Kriegman’s fabulous writing that the reader can’t look away or put down the book even when there are times that Clarissa could only benefit from a “Gibbs” slap to the back of the head to get her brain functioning.

How can she explain anything to anyone when she doesn’t understand it herself? Or is that meant to be the humor in these continuous, tumultuous times? In addition to being unable to judge people and situations to her own detriment, Clarissa seems determined to “hook up” with guys who are emotionally unavailable. Again, it’s beyond time for her to take steps and grow up, not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

She is such a well-drawn character that most readers will want to help her deal with life and adversity, to yell at her – “Come on, it doesn’t have to be that impossible. Cope, girl, cope!” With great characters, terrific dialogue and an extremely effective stream of consciousness, this story will engage and entertain readers. Despite her issues, we will want even more time with Clarissa whether she can explain it all – or not!

Review provided by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space in the Sept/Oct edition of The Book Breeze.

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