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Book of the Month: Yellowface By Rebecca F. Kuang

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TL;DR: Read it.

I downloaded this book while we were on our summer trip. To be honest, I wanted something light and readable, and I’ve seen a lot of people on my gram with this book—it has a very distinctive cover. So I thought, why not?

I read it in four days flat, which is rare. I’m a very slow reader. This book reads like a thriller or a crime novel, and I guess it is both. It’s fast-paced and readable. It tells the story of Juniper Song Hayward, who goes by June. She is a struggling author and watches her friend, Athena Liu, as her career accelerates and she gets everything that June wants to have. When Athena dies in a freak accident, June steals Athena's unpublished manuscript and publishes it as her own under the ambiguous name Juniper Song.

The themes of the book hit very close to home. I’ve heard several discussions of power and racism in the publishing industry, and the book does that complex topic justice. Kuang explores these topics in a nuanced way and shows the effects of social media on the publishing industry and on discussions of these topics (i.e., “Twitter Wars”). In that sense, it is very much a novel of our time.

I don’t love it when writers have a protagonist who is a writer. I said it before (but I can’t find it): When you cannot think of another job for your main character besides a writer, you need to get outside and talk to people. However, in this book, the writer protagonist is justified because it’s about the publishing industry. That said, I wonder whether it couldn’t have been done with an editorial assistant as the main character. Plus, it was possible to write about power and racism in another industry. It would have been a different book, and I’m not one to tell anyone what to write about, but sometimes this whole “write what you know” can serve as blinders, intentional or not.

I loved the main character, June. Kuang shows her guilt and moral deliberation, but June is irredeemable. Every time I was close to liking her, she did something so self-centred it left me stunned. I understood her agony and felt for her, but like a classic tragic heroine, she kept digging her own grave in infuriating ways.

After I read the book, I looked up Rebbeca F. Kuang and found out that she writes historical fiction and fantasy inspired by Chinese history. It gave extra layers and depth to the plot of Yellowface. Needless to say, I followed her on all platforms and added all of her books to my reading list. I’m officially a fan.


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