Year of Yes
How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person
By Shonda Rhimes
Simon & Schuster. 336 pp. $24.99
Y - E - S. For TV producer powerhouse Shonda Rhimes, those three letters pack a lot of possibilities. In fact, they can even change lives.
Rhimes, the mastermind behind TV hits Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder on ABC, details her ongoing journey with the word in her new book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person. It's part memoir, part self-help prose, even part coming-of-age tale at times. Whatever you want to call it, though, it makes for a raw, honest, and enjoyable read that can be devoured in just a couple of sittings.
We get to know a lot about Rhimes in the book's 300-plus pages. She tells us about her modest Midwest upbringing, her siblings who never appear to age, her parents and their enviable marriage (even after 50 years), how she can't live without Jenny McCarthy (her kids' nanny, not the actress), and her vivid imagination that had her concocting characters and plots even before she knew how to write.
She also lets us in on something her sister Delores muttered to her while chopping onions for Thanksgiving dinner a couple of years ago: "You never say yes to anything."
Those six words become the catalyst for Rhimes' "year of yes" quest. How it works sounds pretty simple: Rather than crouching in the shadow of challenges or dismissing opportunities without even giving them a second thought, Rhimes embraces whatever life decides to hurl at her with an open-minded "Yes!" But it's not that simple. She has to trump quite a few insecurities and an introvert mentality to do that.
What follows are several stories of how she did it, strung together with humor and vulnerability. One is about getting up the guts to deliver a commencement speech at her alma mater, Dartmouth. Another is about mustering the courage to do an interview with Jimmy Kimmel.
Rhimes goes on to delve into more universal situations. Saying "yes" to playtime with kids, even when work calls. Saying "yes" to a healthier lifestyle, even when cake calls. Saying "yes" to the kind of life you envision for yourself, even if it's not what society calls "normal." Learning when and how to say "yes" to saying "no" is powerful stuff, too.
Part of what makes the book such an easy read is its conversational tone. Rhimes speaks to the reader as though she's unloading to a longtime friend. But sometimes she lays it on too thick, at the risk of slowing the pace of the book with unnecessary wordiness.
Rhimes says the goal behind her TV shows' diverse casts of characters is to "normalize" television. We should see ourselves - whether that's black, white, gay, straight, transgender, or something else - reflected in them. She excels at penning that same depth and substance into Year of Yes. Rhimes avoids what could have been the book's biggest pitfall - being just another Hollywood read with a celeb lamenting the woes of fame. (Oh, the poor TV producer! How will she learn to conquer her fears so she can wear a fancy designer gown and accept all those shiny awards?)
Kudos to Rhimes for not doing that. As on her TV shows, we see glimmers of ourselves in this book, too. She bridges the gap between celebrity and commoner, proving there's room for a few more "yesses" in all our lives.
This review originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.