Book Review | Unpacking “Year of Yes”: A Look at Shonda Rhimes’ Latest Work

A review of hit showrunner Shonda Rhimes' book “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person”. #bookreview #reading

Hi all,

Hope everyone is having a great week. If you remember I put out a Summer 16 Reading List a few weeks back. One of the most talked about books this year month is “Year of Yes” penned by the infamous Shonda Rhimes. It did not make my list for a couple of reasons, and I wanted to share why.

Book review of Shonda Rhimes' Year of Yes

They Called “Year of Yes” the Ultimate Gifting Book

In the wake of her successful production company, weight loss journey and impact on pop culture, people were eager to read what Rhimes had to share about her life.
As the universe would have it, the day the long-awaited book was released both my morning classes were canceled.
Like the dutiful college student I am, I brushed off my class readings and opened my Kindle app to dive onto the roller coast that is Shonda Rhimes’ mind.
My trusty Kindle app estimated I would complete the book in a little under three hours, but that was not the case at all. Reading this piece of literature was like pulling teeth or trekking to at 8 a.m. class after it has snowed and there’s nothing but ice on the ground.
Throughout the book, I found myself pausing numerous times and asking “What am I missing?”
It is undeniable that Rhimes is a creative writer. She has penned some of my favourite films, created worlds that could exist in no other realm and written monologues that will go down in history.
Yet, this piece of work revealed what many have known but not outwardly expressed for years: she is not the greatest writer of all time. The writing was disjointed and repetitive as if I was reading the diary of a teenage girl or a group text with inside jokes that I wasn’t privy to.

You know the feeling when you’re first introduced to an in-group you do not belong to, and you’re trying to fill in the blanks and catch up on the jokes? It is clear prose is not her forte. There were many moments I was ready to shut the digital cover and send my refund request to Amazon, because I could not stop rolling my eyes.

Political Manifesto, Self- Help Guide, or Personal Diary

The book was less of a self-help, motivational read and more of an ode to Shonda and her outstanding accomplishments and accolades. Many of the chapters focused on the glitz and glamour that had become her life in the last few years as she allowed her introverted personality to enjoy the fruits of her labour.
While I cannot say I ate up every detail she shared, the hardest pills to swallow were those on race, motherhood/parenting, and marriage. Her ideology reminded me of Sheryl Sandberg‘s “Lean In” culture, which is problematic because it lacks intersectionality.
The idea that if you work hard enough, despite the systematic struggles you may face, you too can achieve anything. It was funny her ideology aligned so much with Sandberg’s because she constantly compared herself to Beyoncé. If you know one thing about Beyoncé, how she presents herself to the world does not agree with this new culture that has developed.
As a black, American woman that was not something, I could come to terms with. While it is a well-intentioned ideology, when you get so stuck on that tunnel-vision way of thinking, you not only lose intersectionality, but also belittle the agency of others, because their choices were not your choices. Everyone’s choices, positionality, and opportunities are different.
I was unsettled by the fact that she equated being your child’s friend (which is a big “no-no” in my land) or a helicopter parent to being a parent that is a workaholic who misses out on life events.
Her oldest daughter, Harper, complained about her mom missing three of her recitals. Rhimes believed if she gave in to her daughter’s requests she would become one of those people who let their children walk all over them and turn into terrors. Instead of addressing the issue, she shuts the girl down and orders her to find some gratitude, because she has food and clothes. In that part, I hurt for her daughter. Not only were these words to a child she adopted, no amount of money, clothing or food will substitute for quality time a child seeks from her parent.
While I do agree with her that, in America, marriage is a legal contract and social construct, I cannot subscribe to the point of view that marriage and kids and work means a fairy tale ending. It is like I previously stated, the downplaying of that lifestyle belittles those who chose that path because it presents it as an unrealistic and whimsical dream that only works in certain fictional settings.
If you do not want that reality, cool. Your happy ending and my happy ending do not have to be one in the same, but there should be an acknowledgment that all of those realities are accepted and respected.

In the words of the infamous Kelis…

What Year of Yes Taught Me

With all the flaws in this book, chapter 14 is where Rhimes throws everything she’s told out the window and backpedals to a blank sheet.
I did take away a couple of things. First, she is not a genius, but she does know how to use her privilege to navigate this world.
Also, she uses her characters as a reflection of her life. If you watch her shows, you’ll see the lives of some woman characters following the same trajectory as her own. She does not enjoy talking about race. Rhimes coined the term “First Only Different” (F.O.D), which is a label she rejects despite being those very things in several aspects of her professional life.

She isn’t perfect, but she is not afraid to wipe the slate clean and start another draft in love, friendship or life. She’s a little strange: the women chose to buy red wine over toilet paper and asked not be judged. Of course, I’m going to give you all the side eyes in the world.

All in all, I would not call this the book of the year. If you find yourself with a few hours to kill, I say dive in. You will find yourself nodding along in agreement one minute and rolling your eyes into next year. If you are expecting Rhimes to dig deeper and to reveal more, while showing you the real her, this book won’t give you that.
If you want the little details that did not make it into the latest gossip column, this is the book for you.

“Year of Yes” is available on KindleNook and in print at various book stores.

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If you’ve read the Year of Yes what did you think? Did it live up to the hype for you? Did it change your life? Leave a comment below. 

Happy reading folks!