You don’t have to be a “book person” to love this thought-provoking and biting story about a plagiarist. But if you pore over 1-star Goodreads ratings, ever wondered what a “nice deal” meant in Publishers’ Weekly, or know what tip-in sheets are, you might obsess over this book like me!
June Hayward is a struggling young white author who has a frenemy named Athena Liu. Athena has everything June does not: a brilliant writing career and both literary and critical success. June and Athena, who is Asian-American, have known each other since college and the novel begins with Athena’s sudden death from natural causes (not a spoiler, I promise!)
June does the unthinkable: she steals Athena’s work-in-progress from her apartment and edits the rough manuscript. June adopts a culturally questionable pseudonym and the book becomes a runaway success.
There is so much at play in this brilliant send-up of the harsh world publishing! (“𝘉𝘶𝘵 𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘐 𝘴𝘦𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘢𝘶𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘳 𝘦𝘧𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘴 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘯𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘰 𝘥𝘰 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘢 𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬’𝘴 𝘴𝘶𝘤𝘤𝘦𝘴𝘴. 𝘉𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘴𝘦𝘯, 𝘯𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘥𝘰 𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴, 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘫𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘨𝘦𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘦𝘯𝘫𝘰𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘱𝘦𝘳𝘬𝘴 𝘢𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘢𝘺.”) From the editorial process to a book’s PR to the unending quest for the next big thing, Kuang turns her sharp eye to this often brutal process. June revels in the spotlight and a production company even options the rights to her book (“𝘠𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘧𝘪𝘭𝘮 𝘯𝘦𝘦𝘥𝘴 𝘢 𝘏𝘢𝘳𝘳𝘺 𝘚𝘵𝘺𝘭𝘦𝘴!”)
June is a star and revels in the spotlight. But her detractors launch a social media revolt against her cultural appropriation of a Chinese saga and possible plagiarism, and soon June becomes a pariah in the publishing world. After her soaring “success”, it is too much for her to bear (“𝘉𝘶𝘵 𝘮𝘺 𝘎𝘰𝘥. 𝘐 𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦 𝘣𝘢𝘤𝘬 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘱𝘰𝘵𝘭𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵. 𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘦𝘯𝘫𝘰𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘥𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘧𝘶𝘭 𝘸𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘧𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘰𝘧 𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬 𝘪𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘴𝘵 𝘣𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘬𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘴𝘶𝘤𝘤𝘦𝘴𝘴. 𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘥𝘰𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘶𝘭𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘢𝘭 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯. 𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘱𝘰𝘴𝘴𝘦𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘳𝘺 𝘦𝘲𝘶𝘪𝘷𝘢𝘭𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘰𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘥.”
Is June really an unreliable narrator? I did feel sympathy for her despite her misdeeds. She tries valiantly to make a case for her actions: “𝘐 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘺𝘰𝘶’𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘨. 𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘦𝘧. 𝘗𝘭𝘢𝘨𝘪𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘻𝘦𝘳. 𝘈𝘯𝘥 𝘱𝘦𝘳𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘴, 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘣𝘢𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘮𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘣𝘦 𝘳𝘢𝘤𝘪𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘺 𝘮𝘰𝘵𝘪𝘷𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘥, 𝘙𝘢𝘤𝘪𝘴𝘵. 𝘏𝘦𝘢𝘳 𝘮𝘦 𝘰𝘶𝘵. 𝘐𝘵’𝘴 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘴𝘰 𝘢𝘸𝘧𝘶𝘭 𝘢𝘴 𝘪𝘵 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘴,” June pleads. This absolutely riveting satire worked on so many levels. Highly recommend!
About the Book:
Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars: same year at Yale, same debut year in publishing. But Athena’s a cross-genre literary darling, and June didn’t even get a paperback release. Nobody 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 to the British and French war efforts 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 takes on questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation not only in the publishing industry but the persistent erasure of Asian-American voices and history by Western white society. R. F. Kuang’s novel is timely, razor-sharp, and eminently readable.