Thursday, February 25, 2016

Post Reading: The Word for Yes - Claire Needell


Title: The Word for Yes
Author: Claire Needell
Published: 16 February 2016 by HarperTeen
Source: ARC from Publisher
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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 falls short for me because of multiple reasons - An anti-climatic ending, poor character development, lack of depth and a somewhat stilted writing style. The book itself felt like a emotionless narration of a series of events with no sense of direction.

I had high hopes for Needell's The Word for Yes partly because of the subject matter and partly because I hoped it would be a refreshing look at sibling relationships. Despite its poor execution, The Word for Yes explores some very important topics. The past couple of years have seen a rise in YA fiction that deals with consent and sexual assault including some very important additions to the discussion like What We SawCanary and Faking Normal. However, none of these books approach consent and rape culture the way The Word for Yes does.

Our protagonist, Melanie is a 15 year old popular, mercurial character who is constantly angry and often cruel. Her relationship with her sisters is strained at best and explosive at its worst. Their parents' divorce isn't helping matters at home either. The narration alternates every chapter between the sisters and even includes a POV from the rapist. I'm a fan of multiple POVs in general however, in this case I found them to be completely pointless. None of the characters stood out in particular and I felt no emotional connection whatsoever to them. Not only were the transitions jarring, the narratives added very little value to the overall story.

The rapist's POV however, was used to portray the perpetrator as 'nice' guy. The victim herself viewed him as harmless and mostly good guy who had a crush on her. Throughout the novel, Melanie treats this guy quite terribly and her overall attitude towards him was dismissive. On the night of the incident, Melanie is drunk and initiates contact with the perp. Additionally, throughout the novel Melanie is portrayed as a mean and 'unlikable' character. However, there is no doubt that Melanie was raped. She was too drunk to know what was happening to her or what she was doing. Melanie also struggles with her feelings post-incident and blames herself for the assault. Rape is rape, irrespective of the (inebriated) state of the victim, the length of her skirt, her lifestyle or the circumstance. The Word for Yes attempts to reinforce this fact by showing readers that there are no grey areas in rape and that even the most seemingly non-violent of individuals are capable of this heinous act.

The Word for Yes attempts to delve into multiple important subjects like divorce, its impact on family dynamics, sibling relationships and rivalry, date rape culture, non-stranger rape, the role of alcohol in sexual assault, feminism as well as the struggles of transitioning to college. This however, proves to be the very reason behind the downfall of this novel. The individual subject matters themselves were not given due importance and Needell barely skims over each topic in this 200+ page novel.

Despite its many flaws, I believe that The Word for Yes kickstarts an important dialogue on rape and consent.


2 and half Stars


Pain and injury were private, she knew that. If someone told you the story of a scar, a part of them was lying. They would omit the moment of shock and fear, the crying, the beating of their heart, the desperate look around for someone to make it better. 


The Word for Yes may have missed the mark in terms of execution however, it is important to applaud its attempt to discuss some difficult and often over-looked topics.



Have you read Claire Needell's The Word for Yes? Have you read any YA books that discuss the subject matter in a better way?

1 comment :

  1. Grey characters add depth to novels for me, and they are the most reflective of what it means to be human.


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