Book Review - Yellowface by R. F. Kuang

Yellowface is my kind of read. It has everything I want. Good writing. Great characters. And a page turning plot. It's also, at times, laugh out loud funny, and it is never--even in it's less than perfect second half--boring for a moment. 

The story revolves June Hayward, an author who has achieved virtually no success, and her friendly acquaintance Athena Liu, a literary bestselling tour-de-force author. When an unfortunately (and entirely insane) accidental death occurs to Athena while they are celebrating in Athena's apartment, June steals her manuscript. Our protagonist, June Hayward, then goes on to rewrite and sell Athena's work as her own. Of course, this all spirals out of control as June's paranoia and twitter's unrelenting trolls drag this brand new bestselling author. 

At the heart of the story is plagiarism, but this story also raises the questions of who gets to tell what story. Does June have the right to tell the story of Chinese immigrants, even though June is white? If you're getting Pearl S. Buck vibes or 2018's American Dirt controversy, you're in the right ballpark here. June Hayward (who rebrands herself as Juniper Song) manipulates you at every moment. Mind you, she stole the manuscript in the first place. But R. F. Kaung's writing is brilliant and clever as Kuang brings you into June Hayward's paranoid and delusional world. I can't remember the last time I rooted for someone so toxic to everyone and anyone around them, but I did it with glee. 

It's meticulously told, and the surprises continue, but mostly, I was just so enamored with June. At every moment, I was holding my breath. And don't worry, June is a glutton for punishment. She reads and basks in every negative review, alerts herself to constant destructive behavior, and you, as the reader, will not be able to look away. 

The sharp and biting look at the publishing industry is a story all its own as well. How authors are made (or not), book tours, planning and prepping marketing, it's all here in delightful detail. It feels downright gossip-y. The literary equivalent of The Devil Wears Prada or Save Me the Plums

If there is a complaint, it's that as June becomes more psychologically unhinged, the story becomes almost thriller like. It's not an unreasonable change, but considering how carefully crafted the first half is, the second half loses some of that tension and suspense that is built into the beginning. You could get into whether it's a metaphor for how June truly is or the direction of June's writing, but I'm just going to say that it doesn't feel quite consistent. It remains enjoyable, but it loses some of that "wow-factor" towards the end.

Nevertheless, Yellowface is by far one of the most fun reads of the year. It has something to say, and it does it with a style all its own. This is the perfect beach read for the summer. It's smart, sophisticated, fun and fast. Easily one of the best books of 2023.

Yellowface by R. F. Kuang
Release Date: May 16, 2023
MSRP: $19.99


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