What’s the harm in a pseudonym? New York Times 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 in the vein of White Ivy and The Other Black Girl.
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.
Wow that book is brilliant, cutting, sarcastic and so revealing of today’s behavior on social media!
Once again, RF Kuang is so smart that I was left baffled and dazed more than once when she crammed many truths about today’s society in just a few passages!
Rebecca Kuang also writes the best morally grey characters! Juniper should be the villain but you can’t help understand why she stole that work and empathize with her!
From the first sentences, you dive right into the story and live Juniper and Athena’s complicated friendship. Juniper is green with envy at Athena’s success and Athena is vampirising everyone’s feelings to make them masterpieces in her books.
The way RF Kuang described Athena’s success early on made me inevitably think of her!
“Off the bat, for this story to make sense, you should know two things about Athena: First, she has everything: a multi-book deal straight out of college at a major publishing house, an MFA from the one writing workshop everyone’s heard of, a resume of prestigious artist residencies, and a history of award nominations longer than my grocery list. At twenty-seven, she’s published three novels, each one a successively bigger hit. For Athena, the Netflix deal was not a life-changing event, just another feather in her cap; one of the side perks of the road to literary stardom she’s been hurtling down since graduation.”
I think RF Kuang had a field day caricaturing herself and probably some other authors or an idea of what less successful authors think and feel.
She probably mixed real life comments with an exaggeration of what the publishing industry is like.
When Athena dies under Juniper’s eyes, June will steal Athena’s draft, rework it and will send it to an agent like her own. And that’s when fame but also threats happen.
I know for a fact that I took a lot of notes and was recognizing some of my nemesis like cancel culture and trolls.
These last years we got a lot of witch hunts on social media. White authors can’t write about people of color without being accused of either misrepresenting some race or culture or profiting from it. And if you are white and don’t have people of color as the main characters, or are straight and don’t write about LGBTQ heroes, then you are not diverse enough and you are racist or homophobic…
That really, really makes me mad!
That’s why I was delighted to realize that Rebecca Kuang wrote a masterpiece about all the complicated world authors are living in right now!
“That reverse racism is okay. That they can bully, harass, and humiliate people like me, just because I’m white, just because that counts as punching up, because in this day and age, women like me are the last acceptable target. Racism is bad, but you can still send death threats to Karens.”
Honestly authors are walking a minefield these days, even with sensitivity readers!
Also, all these observations about writing were fascinating! And felt like déjà vu. Maybe remarks from professors or editors to Rebecca’s previous work? Or something she heard about her colleagues?
I could write pages after pages of all the thoughts I had on the publishing industry, on authors trying to get a big deal and go into the spotlight, on the many trolls organizing witch hunts without being informed “Though it doesn’t matter what the truth is. No one spreading these rumors cares about fact checking or due diligence.”
And right alongside these hot and engrossing topics was Juniper’s story and guilt. What she did was wrong but she was convinced it was right in her own twisted way. Soon enough the story will dive into thriller territory with someone targeting Juniper as a thief, pushing her to go further into terror and near psychosis.
Who was behind the threats?
Would Juniper be unmasked? What would happen?
These were the questions constantly crowding my mind and keeping me riveted to the story.
And that ending! Just… perfect for the book and for RF Kuang. I will never be able to do justice to that story! I adored the Poppy War, Babel left me disappointed but Yellowface reconciled me with RF Kuang’s work!
Thanks for reading!