Book Review: The Word for Yes by Claire Needell
At once honest and touching, Claire Needell’s debut novel is a moving look at date rape and its aftermath, at the love and conflicts among sisters and friends, and how these relationships can hold us together—and tear us apart.
The gap between the Russell sisters—Jan, Erika, and Melanie—widens as each day passes. Then, at a party full of blurred lines and blurred memories, everything changes. Starting that night, where there should be words, there is only angry, scared silence.
And in the aftermath, Jan, Erika, and Melanie will have to work hard to reconnect and help one another heal.
The Word for Yes will inspire necessary conversation about a topical and important issue facing our society. The book includes a thoughtful author’s note that provides resources for readers.
I almost abandoned this book about ten times, starting in the first few pages. The writing is stilted, the characters are flat, and the dialogue is unnatural/forced.
BUT I wanted to keep going because this book is about rape and it seemed like there may be some interesting things going on or worth talking about. I’m not much for writing negative reviews on here, so I’ll just hit the high points of why you might want this in your collection or might want to at least know about its content.
15-year-old Melanie is raped at a party. She’s raped by a guy she is friends with. They’re both drunk. She instigates the hookup. Her sister Erika and some friends find her partially naked and passed out. They find the boy in a nearby bathroom getting sick. When Melanie comes to, she instantly and fiercely tells Erika she will kill her if she tells anyone what happened. Erika takes this quit literally and, terrified, talks to no one —except her best friends Morris and Binky, and also her sister, Jan, none of whom take any steps to help. Melanie knows what happened. Her guy “friend” knows what happened. He tries to talk to her about it and be friendly. Melanie just wants to ignore it all and get back to normal. We see the guy’s perspective twice (the book alternates view points between the three sisters). As you’d expect rumors go around, blame is placed on Melanie. She thinks girls are responsible too for getting raped. Erika finally tells the school counselor what happened, who in turn brings Erika’s mom into the conversation. She is seems upset during the conversation, but also like she kind of doesn’t care. (There are also remarks made in this conversation like how drunk Melanie was and how that complicates things.) We don’t see her talk to Melanie about it or address it at all. We don’t really see how this reveal is handled. We do, however, know that their mom isn’t going to tell the girls’ dad about it because it’s a “women’s issue.”
All of this is to say that this story is about a girl being raped, but it’s also about nothing. There is a lot of filler here. The way the characters all react and choose to act or not act on this information is not unrealistic—there’s no one way for anyone to handle any of this—but it all feels so frustratingly distant. I couldn’t get a grip on the characters enough to really care about them. There’s no depth. Perfect Jan, favored Erika, and explosive Melanie fail to move beyond their roles and are just boring. I spent a lot of time yelling at this book for how the rape is handled and there’s certainly plenty to talk about there, but the book as a whole did nothing for me. There are plenty of other books that tackle this subject in better, more effective, more well-written ways.
The author includes a lengthy afterword about rape: what constitutes rape, nonstranger rape and the likelihood of it being reported, what roles drinking might play, self-care, what do to if raped, etc.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/16/2016
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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