By: Rachel Eliason
Genre: YA fiction
Run, Clarissa, Run is an
after school special novel about a kid named Mary Sue Clark, later Clarissa, who is transgender. In the first half of the novel, the main character is primarily referred to as Clark with male pronouns. Clark is obviously this amazingly good looking gender ambiguous kid who is amazingly freaking brilliant but nobody ever notices, because literally every single person around him is an oblivious, close-minded jerk. All the guys at Clark’s school are hypermasculine bully jock jerks who call him a faggot and beat him up all the time, but censor themselves instead of saying “fuck.” “F-you!” they yell at Clark, while slamming his face into various parts of the school. “F-you!” Clark yells back. By contrast, all the women in the novel are helpless, hyperfeminine victims who rely on their husbands, boyfriends, uncles, and lawyers to keep them from anorexia and cutting and whatever. Also, Clark hates lesbians, gay guys, and kids with ADHD. Basically, Clark is perfect and the most judgmental thing north of the Mississippi state legislature.
In Run, Clarissa, Run, literally all information exchanged between adult women is exchanged in the grocery store between flipping through magazines for recipes, a hobby toward which Clark is naturally inclined. Clark would like us to know this is because she is a woman. One day, while Clark is in the grocery store with her mom, fantasizing about cooking cornish game hens like women do, a woman named Shelley who is feminine and Catholic and did I mention feminine, comes along and tells Clark’s mom Kelly that she needs a babysitter since her rotten stinking hulking manly man husband has had yet another affair with the most recent babysitter. Whatever are her Barbie-loving, princess-loving, pink-wearing, tea-party-having twin daughters to do? Clark is obviously the answer.
Over the next few months, Clark enjoys babysitting for the Pirella family, which includes the most cartoonish examples of men and women I’ve ever seen in literature. Manly Man Tony is a Man who drives a Jeep which is Manly and used to be in the Manly Army and also spends a lot of time in his Man Basement, hacking. Tony takes Clark into his Man Lair and shows him a lot about hacking. When Tony is not home, Clark becomes Clarissa and goes around the Woman part of the house, which is decorated in a Womanly manner, wearing Shelley’s clothes and letting the twins do her makeup. Sometimes, when Tony and Shelley are both home, Tony goes into his Man Lair and lets Clark babysit while Shelley goes around doing Womanly chores. One day, Manly Tony comes home early and catches Clarissa wearing Shelley’s clothes. Nonplussed, Tony shows Clarissa where to find the fucking underwear. Clarissa is super stoked to be finally understood as a woman. Also, she passes seamlessly, so Tony immediately wants to bone her. Tony’s plan of action, obviously, is to teach Clarissa all sorts of things about hacking. Because Clarissa is super freaking brilliant and learns everything faster than literally anybody else ever could, Tony compliments her all the time on what a great student she is.
Finally, about halfway through the book, the plot begins to gather momentum and the tortured reader gets a break from the front row seat to Clark/Clarissa’s head. Clarissa, as she’s calling herself about half the time by now, has taken her gay friend Marcus, described as swishy, limp-wristed, and flaming, with her to see a gender counselor who diagnoses her as transgender and says that she’ll just have to wait for transition until she has her mother’s approval. Clarissa uses her babysitting money to buy some “female clothes” as she calls them and makeup, in which she immediately passes. Magic. Obviously. Did I mention she’s super gorgeous? Nobody can stop talking about how gorgeous she is. Also smart, cause even though her teachers at the mean high school give her bad grades, she’s secretly submitting assignments to a college which is giving her A plus-plus-plusses. Tony hacks some documents for Clarissa, then turns the creep up to 11, but that’s okay because Clarissa is now hacking her own documents. She has also befriended some poor overweight girl named Vong who speaks Thai which is important so Clarissa can go get SRS in Thailand. Vong also gives her birth control pills to Clarissa. When Shelley finally decides she has enough and goes to live with her uncle, Tony decides that he’s going to blackmail Clarissa to make Shelley come back, so Clarissa hacks a bunch of money and incriminating evidence and goes on the lam to Thailand.
The second half of the book is mainly just all the adults in Clarissa’s life feeling super bad about how much they didn’t appreciate how brilliant and beautiful Clarissa was now that she’s gone, all the while reiterating everything we already knew that Clarissa did as they discover it. Up to this point, I was almost willing to forgive the exaggerated gender stereotypes in the novel. After all, to a dysphoric teenager, wouldn’t gendered influences seem overpowering and more noticeable than to, say, a cis person who doesn’t think about their own gender too often? I almost forgave it. But then, an all-male cast of manly man computer guys and manly man authorities shows up and intimidates all of Clarissa’s former bullies while searching for her. The women also get together to discuss Clarissa. They don’t do any of the work, though. They mostly just cry. Every conversation is about how completely in awe of Clarissa they are. “Clarissa is brilliant!” they all marvel. “And hot!” and if she ever comes back to the states and gets caught for all the fraud? Well, she’s so brilliant and hot and unique and amazing that they probably won’t even charge her with anything. They’ll probably just give her a six figure a year job doing network security.
With all of the nonsense in this novel, it was actually surprising that it was technically good. It was well-paced. The plot followed the generally accepted guidelines for plots. The cast of characters was altogether solidly arranged. Had Eliason swapped out every bland character and, well, the whole bland world out for something imaginative, artistic, or compelling, it might almost have worked. She knows how to write. She just lacks imagination. Like a structurally sound crack den, the blueprints weren’t the problem.
The unchecked arrogance of Clarissa’s design should really be no surprise to the reader. In the extensive introduction, I learned that Eliason had originally attempted to fund the writing of this, her debut novel, with a kickstarter. In the appended author interview, I learned that Eliason based Clarissa on herself (she is also a trans woman). So, to be fair, there’s plenty of warning. But in case you’re willing to forgive an author for a little arrogance here and there, please enjoy the following bullshit, straight from the text (trigger warnings!):
They ignored Vong. It was the juvenile ADHD kids that taunted her.
Kids struggling with ADHD in this world have formed some kind of bully clique.
“Boys and girls communicate differently,” Christy explained. “With girls there are more non verbal clues. There’s more than what we say going on. A look can convey an entire message.”
Girls are telepathic. Boys are blind. This is why all people in theater are women, oh wait.
A brightly dressed boy came rushing up to Clark. He swished as he ran, one arm up, wrist limp.
(Clark) didn’t want to be with a woman. That would be too much like being a lesbian.
See, it’s not that she’s not attracted to women, it’s that nobody wants to be a lesbian!
(Clark’s) mental state was fragile enough without being a rape survivor on top of it. He would rather be dead than in the looney bin for the rest of his life.
Rape survivors become “looney” and people who go to psychiatric care are in “looney bins.”
The lesbianism of the cowgirls (in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) has less to do with their real sexuality and seems to be a metaphor for the feminist movement of the time period.”
Those women having sex with each other? Yeah they’re straight; they’re just being feminists.
But okay, I’m being harsh. It wasn’t all bad. There was this really awesome typo that caused the one smile to cross my lips during the entire reading of this book:
She had the outfit back in the box and her envelope hands.
For all the masochists in my audience, this book is available on Amazon for 4.99 Kindle, 12.99 paperback.