Athena Liu is a literary darling. Juniper Hayward is literally nobody. When Athena dies in a freak accident, Juniper steals her unpublished manuscript and publishes it as her own under the ambiguous name June Song. But as evidence threatens Juniper’s stolen success, she will discover exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.
What happens next is entirely everyone else’s fault.
This is, in all likelyhood, the most meta thing I’ve read on the subject of writing. One that gives an in-depth view of the publishing industry showing the good, the bad and the ugly. I imagine a story like this could have taken a bizarre direction but there are multiple ways in which RF Kuang makes this work.
To begin with, the book is narrated in first person by June who has stolen Athena’s manuscript and made it her own. That doesn’t imply you can simply categorise one as the devil and the other a saint. No one is perfect, and Athena and June exhibit an intricately tangled relationship history.
In order to make her claim of having written a book on Chinese history legitimate, June adds a subtle yellowface to her identity. As the narrator, and perpetrator, she can be an increasingly frustrating character with two sides to her personality. She effectively draws you into a complex web of lies wherein you shockingly find yourself believing her motive. You are scared for her wellbeing and even root for her success. While you’re falling for June’s convincing act, there is a much bigger picture unfolding behind the scenes that threatens to explode reality.
Kuang’s writing is almost hypnotic in how she manages to brainwash you layer by layer using an unreliable narrator and a skewed version of events. Her characters encompass multiple shades of grey and expose the toxicity embedded in seemingly normal relationships. I’m just not a fan of how it tied up in the end as if missing the last and final knot meant to secure it.
As much literary fiction as a thriller, this is a razor-sharp, twisty satire that questions the concept of morality and marks the line between truth and reality.
Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang. Due to be published on 25th May 2023 by The Borough Press, an imprint of HarperCollins UK. This ARC courtesy of NetGalley and HarperCollins UK.
Book 9 of 2023.
Aquamarine Flavours Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟.
Available on Amazon*.
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