Header Image

Review: Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

Title: Yellowface

Author: R.F. Kuang
Year published: 2023
Category: Adult fiction
Pages: 336 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location: (my 2023 Google Reading map)USA (NY)

SummaryAuthors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars. But Athena’s a literary darling. June Hayward is literally nobody. Who wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.

So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers during World War I.

So what if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song—complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That’s what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.

But June can’t get away from Athena’s shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June’s (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

With its totally immersive first-person voice, Yellowface grapples with questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation, as well as the terrifying alienation of social media. R.F. Kuang’s novel is timely, razor-sharp, and eminently readable. 

Review: I finished this on my flight home from New York and passed it on to the very excited young woman in the seat in front of me, which was really fun (she is about to enter the Syracuse MFA program!). I think the cover of this book is really good.

I had high hopes for this novel and while it was good, it isn't one of my top books so far. Here's what I liked about it:
  • Timely--oh so timely. It deals with cultural appropriation (can everyone write novels from whatever point of view they want?); plagiarism in the literary world; and anti-Asian racism.
  • Characters that were tough to like, but it worked
  • The writing process and the publishing world
  • The twists and turns: I was never sure where the main character was going to go, would she be found out?
What I didn't like: um, nothing specific really, I just didn't love the book. But I did like it and would love to know what you all thought of it. I do want to reiterate that I think Kuang tackled a ton of important stuff and did it well. In fact, I feel like she really took the publishing world to task and good for her!

Note (a week later): I do keep thinking about this novel so I think that's a good sign.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Bookish--all about authors, the writing process, and the publishing world

No comments