After their parents’ divorce, Jan, Erika, and Melanie have to get used to the new world order: a father who’s moved to another continent and a mother who throws herself into moving on. Jan, off at her first semester of college, has plenty to worry about, including an outspoken roommate who’s kind of “out there” and an increasingly depressed and troubled long-distance boyfriend. Her younger sisters, left at home in New York City, and dealing with all the pressures of life in high school, aren’t exactly close. Erika is serious and feels awkward and uncomfortable in crowds, though her beauty tends to attract attention. Melanie is socially savvy and just wants to go out—to concerts, to parties, wherever—with her friends. The gap between all three girls 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 deals with non-stranger rape; with rape that occurs in a drunken moment; with a person who was close to you. Jan, Erika and Melanie are three sisters, who are facing a change in their lives – their parents are separating and Jan is off to college. The relationship between them is a bit complicated – Jan, being the oldest, gets her respect as the big sister. But for Erika and Melanie, things haven’t been right since childhood. Melanie is mean and bullies her sister endlessly for being different. When Melanie gets raped by her friend at a party, it throws the older sisters into a chaotic moment, as to how to deal with it.
For a book that was about a sensitive topic such as rape, it mostly skims over the fact and the resultant affect on the characters. On a technical level, the voices of the characters weren’t distinct, so there was a disconnect with them from the start. Then comes the fact that Melanie is not a likeable character and her ‘healing’ is misguided and misdirected as hatred towards Erika, who was the one who informed the elders about the incident. Melanie wants to keep things quiet and deal with it in her own way, I get it, but hating and being jealous of your own sister and being vindictive and cruel towards her when she was only trying to help? Yeah, I didn’t know what to take from the story, since the focus is on her hatred towards Erika. Jan is self-absorbed and despite being the eldest, doesn’t actually do anything – if she had intervened, perhaps Erika would have been spared the vitriol.
What the novel does succeed in is bringing to light the rape culture that is so unconsciously prevalent that anyone speaking up is considered radical, as evidenced by the reaction to Eliza. Also, the fact that just because a guy has been ‘nice’ doesn’t mean he is entitled to anything, not even an excuse for his behavior. The ending felt a bit mismatched with the pace of the book (which means, the plot was going nowhere) and the confrontation felt inorganic in conception. It felt like something to just wrap up the storyline, and since rest of the book felt superfluous, I wasn’t really impressed with the writing of this book.
Received a free galley from HarperTeen, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger warning : rape