Yellowface – Rebecca F. Kuang

Published By: The Borough Press
Pages: 350
Released On: 25/05/2023

Athena Liu is a literary darling and June Hayward is literally nobody.

White lies
When Athena dies in a freak accident, June steals her unpublished manuscript and publishes it as her own under the ambiguous name Juniper Song.

Dark humour
But as evidence threatens June’s stolen success, she will discover exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

Deadly consequences…
What happens next is entirely everyone else’s fault.


Thanks to NetGalley and The Borough Press for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

Is there a more anticipated book of 2023 than this? I don’t think there is. I admit, that whilst I own a copy of Babel, at the time of writing this, I hadn’t actually read it yet, but thanks to all the adoration and praise that’s been thrown on it, I knew she would be an author I’d jump for if it meant reading her work.

I do wonder how much of the character’s experience with publishing is similar to Kuang’s? It just feels so personal and raw and honest. I also love the issue around who has the rights to write a story. If a book focusses on the plight of the Chinese during World War 1, can a white, non-Chinese author write about it? Or should it only be for Chinese authors? As a Chinese-American author, I wonder what experience Kuang has had with this – I am really interested to find out, but my gut reaction is that, as long as you’re respectful, I think anyone should be able to write about anything within fiction.

My chapter 3, I just had to stop to take a breath. She’s writing about this character who writes so beautifully, and I’m sat here thinking the same way about Kuang. Every single word is so intensely magical and beautiful. I’ve never felt like that before so early on in a book.

Maybe it’s not the main thing I should be taking away from this book, but the way June talks abut writing, that love and passion, is exactly how writing feels. I may not be a published author and I may have about a dozen WIPs, but it doesn’t matter. Just that feeling of writing is unlike anything else.

Because it’s about an author and their writing process, there’s little story ideas littered through the book, so it’s almost like Kuang is having to come up with several book plots in one, which is very impressive, and gives us an insight into her mind which is a nice addition.

It really looks at the idea of ownership and censorship. Can a white person write a book about Chinese people or can only Chinese people do that? Can a black author write about white people, or can only white? Can a gay person write about straight relationships, or only homosexual ones? I think, if it’s done with respect, understanding, care, attention, and the relevant research has been done, anything can be written by anyone, and I think it’s a bad place for publishing if we start specifying what stories each individual could do. It would stifle creativity, and Kuang’s writing along shows how much we need creativity.

It also shows how bad a space social medica can be and how it can affect your mental health. From my experience on Twitter, there’s been nothing but positivity, but I’m aware I’m lucky in that regard. But this shows how one thing can spiral out of control and really affect people. It’s a great piece of social commentary without feeling too forced or over the top.

I’ve seen other reviews say it’s a satirical look at the publishing world. I kind of get where they’re coming from, but for me, satire wasn’t what came to mind. To me, this is a complex, multi-layered, dark, all encompassing look at the hardships of this career that, from the outside, looks immensely glamorous.

I generally prefer character development over a convoluted plot, but this has a nice balance of both. The characters are fantastic. June is a complex character and you want to root for her even if she’s morally questionable. And then the plot is easy to follow, exciting, entertaining, engaging, thrilling, and dark. She hasn’t sacrificed one for the other, which is good to see.

I think this is the book I was meant to read. Whilst not always uplifting, I think it’s so powerful, and I think anyone interested in writing, or those already published, will feel this same power. I could see this being on the best-of-2023 books in every corner of the globe.

I devoured this in less than 24 hours, it was so perfect. I definitely need to get started on Babel now. She is an author I’ll definitely be looking out for in the future.

There are so many reasons why this book will probably end up on my favourite books of the year list, and it’s only March (at time of writing)!

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