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The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know - Brent Hartinger

In any endeavor, it's difficult to make an informed decision without having all of the necessary information. Russel, of 'The Thing I Didn't Know, I Didn't Know' by Brent Hartinger, is trying to make sense of his life. Russel sees how successful and focused his friends are and wonders if there's something wrong with him because he isn't. Everyone around Russel seems to be driven with the desire to succeed; they seem to know what they want and are working hard to get it while Russel doesn't have a clue. As long as Russel looks for answers outside of himself, he's not likely to discover that the answers he seeks already lie within.

In his quest for discovering his path in life, Russel makes the mistake, which many people make, of looking to others for his answers. What's good for some is not necessarily good for all. Yet Russel questions, analyzes, contemplates, and acts as if it were. Russel sees his best friends Gunnar and Min seemingly having it all together and it only reinforces his belief that, at this stage in his life, he should have direction as well. Russel wracks his brain trying to “fit” himself into something so he will be where he thinks he should be in life. Russel launches himself headlong into a search, although he doesn't truly know what he's looking for, in a desperate attempt to feel productive. Nothing in his life feels right to him. He has two jobs and hates both of them. There's no future in either one. His random hookups might satisfy a physical need, but Russel isn't really the promiscuous type. When he's confronted with a situation in which his health could be in jeopardy, he knows it's time to get out! Besides, Russel yearns for a committed relationship.

When Russell spots his high school sweetheart, Kevin, his mind and heart go back to a happier, simpler time in his life. He thinks he knows exactly what he wants but, instead of going for it, Russel hems and haws and makes excuses. Russel is so afraid of being rejected he doesn't approach him. When he finally gets up the nerve, the reunion is wonderful. Even Kevin is successful and well-adjusted, making Russel, once again, question himself. Things go well otherwise until Kevin tells Russel he has a boyfriend. When Russel finally meets Collin, the boyfriend, he's too “perfect”; he is handsome, smart, successful, motivated, and jealous. Russel detests him right away. They end up having an argument during dinner and Russel storms out. He hopes Kevin will see what a jerk his boyfriend is and leave him. Then they can be together, the way Russel is convinced they belong. Unfortunately, the opposite happens. Kevin tells him since his boyfriend is much more upset and jealous than he realized he'd be, he and Russel can't see each other for a while. Russel goes home more dejected than ever.

At his lifeguard job, Russel saves the life of a woman named Vernie, who is drowning. Vernie is, of course, eternally grateful and is convinced that she is supposed to find a way to save Russel's life as well. Russel patiently listens to the story of Vernie's life as a playwright and is inspired. She helps him discover some of the “secrets” that Russel doesn't even know are there and comes to terms with some truths in his life which have been there all along; Russel simply didn't realize how important they are.

There's little doubt that many young men and women around Russel's age are floundering, like Russel, wondering what to do with their lives; struggling with what it all means. They're still sorting out the whys and hows of what it takes to have a happy, successful life. I suspect that many of them are not nearly as confident as they appear to be but hope if they behave as if they are; maybe they will find their own truth. If you like to read about finding your way in life, seeing character growth, and discovering how important friends are, you may enjoy this book. Thanks, Brent, for giving me insight into Russel's and other twenty-somethings' predicament.



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