Updated: Aug 4, 2020
I’m not sure what I imagined Shonda Rhimes would be like before reading her memoir, The Year of Yes, but I was surprised to find out just how funny, witty, and (at times) even corny/nerdy that she is. I had this book on my shelf for a few years before finally deciding to pick it up and read it with my book club, Books&Shit, at the recommendation of a few people on the internet. I had also been wanting to read more memoirs and, after several life changes and applying to grad school, The Year of Yes seemed extremely appropriate and timely.
The Year of Yes is the story of how Shonda Rhimes, one of Hollywood’s most recognizable names, changed her life by choosing to say one word for a year: Yes. She begins the memoir by introducing herself to the audience as a “professional liar”. In other words, she tells stories for a living, and she loves it (and so do all the dedicated Grey’s Anatomy fans out there still watching after SIXTEEN seasons!). The decision to take on the Year of Yes challenge comes to her in the aftermath of her sister casually saying to her one day, “You never say yes to anything”. This one statement forces her to recognize a truth that she can’t suppress any longer. Despite breaking huge barriers in the entertainment industry by being a Black show creator with not one, but three shows on primetime TV with Black and female leads, and having a loving family and healthy children, Shonda Rhimes was miserable. Not just miserable. She hated her life. And once she said it aloud, she couldn’t take it back.
“I am miserable. Admitting this takes my breath away. I feel as though I am revealing new information to myself. Learning a secret I’ve been keeping from myself.”
The Year of Yes challenge was simple. She would say yes to anything she was invited or asked to do that would normally push her outside of her comfort zone. And as with most things in the Universe, once she opened that door several things came flooding through. Over the course of the book, she details her reluctance but acceptance to do things like speak at commencement at her alma mater Dartmouth, speak at award shows, attend galas and events with important people like the Obamas, and interview with Oprah to name a few. You can probably guess what happened. Her life changed for the better, and her confidence began to flourish more than it had in all her life, by her own account. She started to recognize her power as her own person, and not the writer behind the characters that she could create and (in my opinion) pretend to be and live vicariously through. She started to “say yes” to other areas of her that led to healthier lifestyle habits and weight loss, as well as dropping folks who she realized were her friends for the wrong reasons.
“She’s learned not to compromise. She’s learned not to settle. She’s learned, as difficult as it is, how to be her own sun.”
I loved reading about all of the positive change that came from Shonda deciding to take on this challenge. However, the book fell short for me in a lot of other places. While I read it feeling quite happy for her, to be quite frank, the book was kind of boring to me. On the one hand I really enjoyed her writing style in that it’s written exactly how we can imagine that she speaks. Short quips, witty humor, and punchlines help to move the story along. But the story itself is just not very… exciting? That said, I also think the story could have been about 100 pages shorter. After a while it does feel like she’s dragging it out without adding any additional “umph” to make finishing worth it. By the last (4th) book club discussion, pretty much everyone was happy to have it be over. If you’re simply interested in learning more about Shonda Rhimes’ personality (which by all accounts is charming and funny) and personal journey, I say go for it. However, if you’re looking for a book that will pack a punch and inspire you to take on life, I think there are other more inspirational books that can get the job done. 2/5 stars for me!
“How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared?”
Have you read this one? What did you think? Do you agree or disagree with my rating?