It’s been decades since we’ve heard from Clarissa and when I started this book I was pretty nervous. There’s a lot of legacy to live up to here. Did she turn out okay? Will I feel okay reading about her outside of the TV series? Things I Can’t Explain, is written by series creator Mitchell Kriegman and will be released November 10th. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.
But full disclosure, I did not care for this book. Frankly, parts of it felt like a real chore to get through. I found myself a bit bored by the plot. And I found it hard to get past the fact that the math glaringly does not add up. I’m sure this was done for creative reasons, but Clarissa is such a cultural icon of the early/mid 90’s to me, as I’m sure she is for many other girls of that era. So to hear that she graduated from college in 2009 (and figuring that means she must have spent over a decade in high school for that to even remotely make sense) just doesn’t sit right with me.
Plus, financial crisis recent-grad millennial is not Clarissa as we grew up with her. Clarissa Explains It All first aired in 1991 and Clarissa was in the 9th grade. She’s on the cusp of the Gen-X/Millennial generation. She’s the teenager that all of the younger millennials (the one’s who actually did finish college in 2009 without any math tricks) looked up to and aspired to be. If she’s suddenly supposed to be the same age as a younger millennial, then it somehow spoils everything.
I’d be much more interested in reading about her in her early to mid thirties. She could still have a life-crisis. I’m down to hear about that. But something about this book rings false. Clarissa doesn’t belong with her contemporaries in this book. Suddenly, she’s a “millennial” and she throws around words like “SnapChat” but it doesn’t even sound like she knows how what she’s saying. She describes a friend, who is presumably Clarissa’s age, who changes her Facebook profile picture every “43 minutes.” That’s not something a late-twenties millennial would do. That sounds more like something a seventeen or eighteen year old millennial might do. And those kids don’t even have Facebook because Facebook is what “old people” use.
I feel like the character’s voice is missing, and maybe that’s a by-product of how amazingly Melissa Joan Hart depicted her on the television show. But I don’t think that’s entirely the problem. Rob Thomas wrote a couple of books using Veronica Mars as a character and the character was still very much Veronica Mars. This just does not feel like Clarissa. She feels like she’s in the wrong time and place and I feel like just about anyone could be telling me this story. Frankly I just do not care about this character, and that’s mostly because I don’t feel like there’s much of a character to care about.
I guess there are a few other elements of insincerity to me as well, but I’m not sure they’ll bug others as much. As a former New Yorker, I find it really odd that Clarissa, while trying to convince her parents that a near-stranger is her boyfriend, would mistakenly pick Riverdale as his neighborhood of residence. I’ll point out that this guy runs a coffee stand in the lobby of a corporate building in lower Manhattan, so he’s pretty much as far socioeconomically and geographically as possible from Riverdale. She also has all of these stupid rules about little New York interactions that require you to not know anyone’s names. So she’s been getting coffee from this one guy for years and has intentionally not learned his name. Aside from making her sound like a jerk, this is also another weird attempt at a “local’s characterization” of New York City–like people have these little interactions and then intentionally do not learn each others names? It’s odd and patently false, in my experience.
I hate to say it, but I couldn’t recommend this book to you. The best thing about Clarissa in the Clarissa Explains it All years was that she managed to be a totally genuine kid while also being a trendsetter. Actually, the whole fact that she was a trendsetter stemmed naturally from the fact that she was genuine and creative. Now, it feels like she’s a square peg forced into the round hole of the 21st century, and the transition is not happening smoothly. And no, it’s not because she is having a “quarter-life crisis.” The few shining moments in this book are those in which we get a fun graphic or cool list that remind us of Clarissa’s glory days. Those are fun, but not worth the price of trudging through everything else.
I say this as someone who runs a nostalgia blog: this character is certainly better left in your memories.