You know that antsy feeling you get when you're watching TV and a character is doing something unbelievably horrible? That's what it was like reading Yellowface by R.F. Kuang, our #ReadWithMC June pick. It follows two "friends" who are both writers with vastly different career success: Athena Liu has achieved commercial literary success with multiple book deals, while June Hayward didn't even get a paperback release, which she chalks up to not being "diverse" enough. When Athena dies in a freak accident, June takes the opportunity to steal Athena's unfinished manuscript and release it as her own under a new ambiguously ethnic penname. June finds success overnight, but soon she finds herself facing the repercussions of her actions.
This novel was a lot of things: thought-provoking, engaging, satirical, and, at times, uncomfortable. As such, #ReadWithMC readers had plenty to say, especially about the main character and narrator June. "At the end of the day with June, her actions were reprehensible and disgusting, so to be in the passenger seat while she made decisions was really interesting," wrote @sonja_reads. Another reader @whast.sophie.reading had a bit of sympathy for June writing, "I mean, I both liked and hated June and Athena. It takes a special kind of mastery to create an awful character, yet have someone feel sorry for them."
At the core of this book are a ton of themes including racism, cultural appropriation, cancel culture and diversity, and readers seemed to love Kuang's approach to these sensitive topics. "The way Kuang fearlessly tackles issues of racial inequality and stereotypes is truly remarkable," wrote @aliencatsbookempire. "She exposes the flaws in power structures and makes you question your own biases." @libbys_library shared a similar sentiment, writing, "Kuang takes delicate but significant topics and injects them so intentionally into this story, while maintaining a modern tone."
Each month, we gather up the reviews of our virtual book club members so anyone else looking for their next great read has a collection of recommendations. Here's what #ReadWithMC readers had to say about Yellowface.
"Yellowface by R.F Kuang
'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. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.'
This was a very thought provoking and timely read that confronts the important topics of cultural appropriation, racial identity, discrimination, and cancel culture. Kuang takes delicate but significant topics and injects them so intentionally into this story, while maintaining a modern tone. While reading, I found myself having internal dialogue: 'Why are certain public figures ridiculed temporarily while others are permanently cancelled? Where is the tipping point between internet slander and permanent cancellation? How has the internet impacted cancel culture as it relates to literature and creatives? Is it considered cultural appropriation when an author writes on a historical subject that took place outside of their own race?' I think it really speaks to Kuang’s ability as a writer that she is able to provoke such internal discussion while telling a story that fits so well with modern times.
While it’s obvious that June’s morality is ill-formed, the first-person perspective of this story is clearly an intentional writing decision that makes readers question whether or not June is a bad person, or if the internet is just too woke. This decision provokes readers to look deep into their own beliefs and morality in order to form their own conclusions about the severity and harmfulness of June’s decisions. I appreciate Kuang’s choice to tell this story in this way, for the impact is far more significant and leads to a very introspective and reflective reading experience.
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"Quick little book review.
I just finished #yellowface by @kuangrf and though it was very different from a lot of the books I read, I really really liked it. I thought it was such a cool and unique exploration of racism amongst people who consider themselves allies, and within the writing world in general. The ending was absolutely amazing even if it was in a way grotesque. The thing about this book that stood out to me was that it was from the “villains” perspective so to speak. That style of writing is always so interesting to me because even if you hate the villain and what they’re doing, since they’re the protagonist you catch yourself slipping to slightly sympathize with them. Because being in their head sort of allows you to rationalize their actions. At the end of the day with June, her actions were reprehensible and disgusting, so to be in the passenger seat while she maid decisions was really interesting.
Definitely a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ read!!"
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"Yellowface by R. F. Kuang ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
“So I simply must continue to live with this ghost, to grow accustomed to her face lingering on the backs of my eyelids. We must find some other equilibrium of coexistence that does not involve my giving her the only thing she wants.”
Kuang does it again! The amount of times I had to remind myself that this was Kuang’s writing and not the memoir of a racist white lady trying to pretend she isn’t racist was ridiculous. But really, I shouldn’t be surprised given how skilled Kuang is.
June and Athena aren’t exactly friends, both writers with Athena having tremendously more success than June (according to June, it’s really because being diverse is in and Athena is a Chinese American woman, whereas June is white). So when Athena dies in front of June, June takes her chance and grabs Athena’s latest work… and proceeds to pass it off as hers and really let’s her racism show through this almost faux autobiographical / inner monologue book.
I was so uncomfortable reading this book, but I couldn’t put it down. It was full of micro and macro-aggressions, overtly racist remarks that folks will downplay (how June feels about Chinese food!?!!!), and a tale so gross, I was left feeling icky throughout most of it. And yet… Kuang is a genius, I couldn’t put it down.
This is my fourth novel by Kuang and I particularly loved how different it was from her others. If you’ve been intimidated by Kuang or have been wanting to read her for a while, Yellowface is a great introduction to her talent! It will definitely leave you feeling gross… June sucks lol
💛 have you read Yellowface yet?"
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"Yellowface | Rebecca F. Kuang
This. This is a masterpiece! @kuangrf is my auto buy author as I’m yet to read something, that is not ✨perfect✨
June, a successful writer wannabe, is a “friend” of Athena, a literary sensation. When Athena chokes on a pancake in front of June’s eyes, she takes the opportunity and steals Athena’s unpublished manuscript to alter it and publish as her own (but under slightly different name of Juniper Song). She quickly gets called out, but just how far is she willing to go in order to make the truth disappear?
There’s not a single bad word I could say about this book. Rebecca’s writing had me hooked and I finished it in under 24 hours. As always, the characters were complex, the storyline not so straightforward and the whole book felt very morally grey. I mean, I both liked and hated June and Athena. It takes a special kind of mastery to create an awful character, yet have someone feel sorry for them.
This book is not only about stealing a manuscript, it’s more like holding up a mirror to the publishing companies’ faces. Using minorities as a marketing tactic, putting extreme pressure on writers, not actually listening to them or respecting their work - these are all topics covered in this novel. She also brings up cancel culture, people writing about things they didn’t live through, and racism.
I loved it. It will take a very special place on my bookshelf right next to Babel. I cannot wait for her next novel 🤎"
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"No one is able to write morally grey like R F Kuang.
I think that much is evident. I think that if anyone else were to write a book on this premise they would (and no shade on their competency as a writer) inevitably fail.
This novels reads with the aggressions of a mature, tell all memoir, which I believe was the way it has been structured. A fictional memoir, that is polished, satirical and at times conversational.
I think the misconceptions that I had when I heard that Kuang was going to cause a tsunami with her new novel was that it would be written from her OWN personal perspective as a published author. But no. Why would she do that? I have yet to see an author write as bodly as she does. She did that. Without using herself.
She really said 'oh you want me to write a book on publishing? No problem' here you go.
The main character is the text book definition of a closet, educated racist. Then let's throw in racism, misogyny, xenophobia, plagiarism, pretty-privilege and we have what I think is one of the most bravest novels I have ever read. Was it her best? No. I think Babel has well and truly taken that spot.
But no one and I really do mean no one could deny that #rfkuang is a skillful writer who has no qualms of writing with zero constraints.
#yellowface proves that."
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"🌟 Book Review: "Yellowface" by Rebecca F. Kuang 🌟
📚 Captivating. Thought-provoking. Unforgettable. 📚
I finished reading "Yellowface" by Rebecca F. Kuang in two days, and let me tell you, this book is a total gem! From its engaging storytelling to its profound exploration of identity and power, it had me hooked from the very first page. ⚡️💛👀
Through Kuang's weaving of multiple narratives, we get a glimpse of Asian cultures and their histories. The characters, like June Hayward (Juniper Song) and Athena Liu, are incredibly well-developed, making their struggles with self-discovery and societal expectations feel real and relatable. 👥❤️
The way Kuang fearlessly tackles issues of racial inequality and stereotypes is truly remarkable. She exposes the flaws in power structures and makes you question your own biases. 💔
The prose in "Yellowface" is simply breathtaking. Kuang's vivid imagery and heartfelt emotions make the story come to life and impossible to put the book down. 🌸✨
This thought-provoking read left me reflecting on the themes long after I turned the final page. It's a powerful reminder of the impact of literature and the importance of self-reflection. 📖💭
I highly recommend "Yellowface" if you're looking for a book with a lasting impact. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Have you read "Yellowface" yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! 👇🏼
And if you haven't, I urge you to add it to your reading list ASAP. Trust me, you won't be disappointed. ✨📚👀
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Brooke Knappenberger is the Associate Commerce Editor at Marie Claire, where she writes across the board from fashion and beauty to books and celebrities. As a pop culture junkie, Brooke obsessively consumes and writes about the latest movie releases, streaming TV shows, and celebrity scandals. She has over three years of experience writing on fashion, beauty, and entertainment and her work has appeared on Looper, NickiSwift, The Sun US, and Vox Magazine of Columbia, Missouri. Brooke obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism with an emphasis on Magazine Editing and has a minor in Textile and Apparel Management.
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