INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A REESE'S BOOK CLUB PICK
“Hard to put down, harder to forget.” — Stephen King, #1 New York Times bestselling author
White lies. Dark humor. Deadly consequences… Bestselling sensation Juniper Song is not who she says she is, she didn’t write the book she claims she wrote, and she is most certainly not Asian American—in this chilling and hilariously cutting novel from R.F. Kuang, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Babel.
Authors 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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
We were sucked into this smart and shocking comedy of errors about race and the publishing industry. Struggling author Juniper Hayward can’t help feeling a tinge of envy about her friend Athena Liu’s literary celebrity and ever-growing collection of bestsellers. Then one drunken night, Athena shows Juniper her latest work in progress, a brilliant lost history of Chinese laborers that Juniper desperately wishes she’d written herself. And after a tragic mishap leads to Athena’s death, Juniper makes some seriously bad decisions. Author R. F. Kuang’s satiric gem takes on the hot topic of cultural appropriation in a unique and highly entertaining way. She puts us right into Juniper’s mind, allowing us to experience her bizarre rationalizations and comical self-righteous indignation. Yellowface is the kind of book that everyone will be talking about.
A struggling novelist passes off a manuscript left by her dead college friend in this excellent satire from Kuang (Babel, or the Necessity of Violence). Athena Liu, who is Chinese American, dies accidentally by choking at her Washington, D.C., apartment while celebrating a movie deal for one of her novels. At the celebration is June Hayward, who met Athena when they were at Yale together, and whose own career has stalled after her publisher folded. Since then, while watching Athena's meteoric rise, she came to find her old friend "unbearable." In the commotion after Athena's death, June, who is white, pilfers a manuscript from her desk. Titled The Last Front, it's a historical novel about the role of Chinese laborers in WWI. After June gets a six-figure deal for it, she excises slurs used against Chinese laborers and adds a love story between a white woman and a Chinese soldier. Against objections from Candice Lee, a Korean American editorial assistant, the book goes to market, where it climbs up the bestseller list and attracts a vociferous backlash from the AAPI community, plus a scathing review from a prominent critic, who calls it a "white redemption" narrative. June grows increasingly anxious as she's accused online by @AthenaLiusGhost of stealing Athena's work, then starts thinking she's seeing Athena at readings and around town. Kuang provides a sharp analysis of publishing's blind spots and guides the plot toward a thrilling face-off between June and Athena's "ghost." This is not to be missed.
Chilling, sad, thought-provoking
At first, I enjoyed the satire, but it quickly became clear that this novel is more than a biting send-up of the culture wars. As Kuang notes in her afterword, it's a horror story about loneliness. The end is a bit over the top, but this is a gripping tale.
A brutally realistic end
Spoiler alert: Credit where it’s due, the minimal dialogue in this book is incredible for what it displays when it’s used. The entire story feels intriguing based solely on how horrible Juniper Song Hayward is as a person. Seeing her constantly validated by those she surrounds herself with, but never truly has anyone to fall back on is remarkably well done.
Lots of Juniper’s relationships are left off relatively unresolved, with them mainly feeling so real with the lack of actual closure. Despite this fact, “Yellowface” still manages to make these instances fit in well overall.
General critique comes in with the choice of a horroresque thriller angle. At first it works due to the premise being relatively new and jarring to the reader, though over the course of the book it becomes a bit tedious to read. The novel felt like more of a commentary on the publishing industry and of society than a horror novel/thriller.
Regardless it was still a gripping read that kept me invested till the bitter end. (Which was the only thing i’ve taken out a star for. It’s personal opinion, but read the ending for yourself to see if you agree.)
She's Done it Again
Another amazing story from the queen of modern writing herself. R.F. Kuang has the makings of one of the greats. There is not a doubt in my mind that in a future Literature 101 course they will be going over this book. Truly a thriller, I started this book about an hour after it was released and finished at 4 PM that day.