I’ll start with a disclaimer: I love Parks & Recreation. I love all of the characters, but Leslie Knope is one of my favorites. While searching for Yes Please at the bookstore, I initially asked an employee if they had Leslie Knope’s memoir in stock yet. Sometimes I still slip up and refer to it that way.
Also, I think Amy Poehler is way cool. Not just because she brings the Leslie Knope character to life, but because she does things like create the Smart Girls website, which, in its own words, emphasizes “intelligence and imagination over ‘fitting in’” and wants girls to be their “weird and wonderful selves.” Also because she was awesome on Saturday Night Live and when hosting the Golden Globes.
All of this is to say that I came at Yes Please with a strong bias. The idea of hanging out with Amy Poehler for 329 pages sounded like a pretty great deal and I was jazzed to start reading.
The book gave me exactly what I was looking for. For the most part, it doesn’t feel like a traditional memoir; rather, it feels like sitting in her living room, looking through a big box of her mementos with her, and listening while she recounts her memories of her childhood, her career, her family, her friends. Basically, it’s very much like hanging out with her for a few hours.
Yes Please doesn’t get deep and dirty. It avoids deep discussion of topics like her recent divorce and only lightly touches on any emotional struggles. Still, it does give a pretty clear portrait of Poehler as someone who is unflinchingly honest and tells it like it is; someone who truly cares about and appreciates those around her; and someone who, despite her career successes, remains humble.
Her humility, for me, is particularly wonderful. Poehler gives the sense that, even though she’s been doing it for years, she still can’t get over the fact that she does what she does or that she gets to work with the people she does. Writing about her friendship with Adam Horovitz and Kathleen Hanna (of Beastie Boys and Le Tigre/Bikini Kill fame), she says, “I’m blowing my cool cover but I am so psyched we are friends.” Then, she runs into a giddy list of other people she’s friends with and almost blurts out, “It’s awesome! I can’t lie, it’s so awesome!”
Tied into this is how much appreciation she gives to those who have contributed to her success – not just other show biz people, although she does recognize them, too, but the behind-the-scenes people you’ve never heard of. She thanks each of her nannies by name, crediting them with her ability to do what she does while being a mom, while acknowledging that she is lucky and that some people cannot afford such a privilege. She also thanks by name and photograph the TSA worker who found and returned her laptop, which contained the whole manuscript of Yes Please.
The book covers a variety of topics, including how she got into improv, her challenges with insomnia, her experience hosting the Golden Globes, and her time working on Parks & Rec, among others. While all of these were interesting, the best part of the book for me were the sections spent on her childhood. Poehler’s descriptions of growing up, the awkwardness of her adolescence, the excitement of starring in school plays and realizing for the first time in her life that she could improvise if she wanted to, the unspeakable sadness she felt when her best friend’s mother died of cancer, are all beautifully rendered and relatable.
Still, what stands out most are the sections on her parents. Yes Please gives a lot of room to Poehler’s parents, even allowing them to author short pieces about the day she was born. Her descriptions of her parents make clear her love and admiration for them, while simultaneously painting pictures of real, hardworking people who are just as interesting as their famous daughter.
In between all of these sections, Poehler includes memorabilia, childhood and family pictures, lists, and poems. Featured are treasures like her old report cards, a poem from middle school, sex advice, and haikus like this one: “Hey, shooting poison/In your face does not keep you/From turning fifty.” As much as the narrative, these give you a sense of Poehler as the honest, funny, smart, and sentimental woman she is.
Basically, Yes Please delivers exactly what Poehler hopes it will in the book’s preface: “an open scrapbook that includes a sense of what [she is] thinking and feeling right now.”
Rachel Adler is a writer and editor who is currently wandering through Montana and Wyoming. Yesterday, she had the opportunity to see baby bison nursing. It was way cool. She thinks everyone should visit Yellowstone. When she’s not traveling, she lives in Boulder, Colorado. Sometimes she posts things on her Tumblr.