Friday, February 12, 2016

Review: The Word for Yes

The Word for Yes
By Claire Needell
Expected publication February 16, 2016 by HarperTeen

Jan, Erika, and Melanie don't always get along, but they usually manage. Their lives are changed by their parents' divorce and Jan's departure for college. And then, at a Halloween party, something terrible happens to Melanie. Will the sisters find a way to help each other through?

Oooh boy. I did not care for this book, which is hugely disappointing. This is, if not obvious from the title, a book that deals with sexual assault and issues of consent. An extremely important topic, to be sure, but I found this book very problematic.

From the very beginning, I had problems with the characters, most particularly with Melanie. Her hatred toward her sister is extremely unsettling to read - in many instances, I felt like I was reading the thoughts of a sociopath. I don't feel like her feelings against Erika are ever explained in a way that makes sense - she just seems to hate her because she's different from her. I completely understand how difficult and complicated relationships with siblings can be - I had an intense dislike of my own brother for most of my childhood. And, I suppose, maybe to an outsider, it would have been difficult to understand. But, even with my personal history of an antagonistic sibling relationship, I could not for one second relate to Melanie's feelings towards Erika.

Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that I related to Erika any better, either. It seems that she has some sort of developmental delay but it's never clearly addressed, which makes things a bit muddy. Eldest sister Jan was not really enough of a presence to merit much emotion - frequently, I wondered why she was there at all, since this was most clearly a story focusing on the relationship between Erika and Melanie.

And, that might lead into another issue I have with the book - for a book about sexual assault and consent, it does not deal with these issues as fully or as effectively as I would have hoped. I would actually be more likely to assert that this is a story of two sisters than it is a story of the aftermath of a sexual assault. I felt like the issues surrounding the assault were glossed over except for where they intersected with issues surrounding the relationship between the sisters. I feel like this book presents a lot of falsehoods surrounding sexual assault and does nothing to identify them as such. In fact, the afterword, the one part of the book that deals with sexual assault and consent most specifically, struck a very wrong chord for me. This book doesn't engage in overt victim-blaming (and the afterword specifically calls out victim-blaming as the wrong approach when dealing with sexual assault cases), but it certainly doesn't go out of its way to make it clear that what occurred was a crime and deserves to be handled as such. Even the afterword is wishy-washy about the criminality of the event, which I find extremely problematic.

Overall, I would not recommend this one.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

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