Yellowface – Rebecca F Kuang | Book Review | #Yellowface

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When Athena dies in a freak accident, June steals her unpublished manuscript and publishes it as her own under the ambiguous name Juniper Song.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

Publisher: The Borough Press
Format: Ebook, Audio, Hardback (23 May 2023)
Source: Borrowed from library


Ever since I started book blogging 10 years ago, I’ve been interested by the ‘behind the scenes’ of book publication. I’ve seen disappointed comments from authors desperate to be signed by an agent, or have their book picked up by one of the big publishers, however this book should come with a warning of be careful of what you wish for.  Yellowface was both a thought provoking and an entertaining take on an industry which determines much of what we read.

With its themes of plagiarism, deceit, racism, cultural identity and toxicity, this was such an addictive read and I should have got the popcorn out as I watched June’s rise to fame and then the fallout played out in public, there was such a cinematic feel to the story. The protagonist June/Juniper was a character that I really felt I should dislike intensely.  Her dishonesty was of the worst kind bought about by feelings of entitlement and her jealousy of someone being far more successful than her. However there were times when compassion for her overcame revulsion for what she did in stealing her friend’s manuscript. June tried to justify her actions on the basis that by passing Athena’s work of ‘The Last Front’ off as her own, she was honouring her legacy – and ultimately that it was actually mainly June’s work anyway because she had contributed so much in the further drafting and editing process. Told from June’s perspective, her inner turmoil of guilt, elation and desperation gave some depth to the character and despite her attention seeking and calculating actions, I couldn’t help rooting for her at times, particularly when the Twitter trolls were doing their worst and feeding the fire with all manner of allegations and death threats.

Social media frenzy and cancellation is something we have seen before but here it is on an epic scale. How can you come back when you have been vilified and then shunned by the very profession that you so want to be a part of. The subject of identity and own voices becomes more of an issue for June because unlike Athena, she is a white woman writing about Chinese experiences and culture.

I’ve seen mixed reviews of the book, it seems you either love it, or not. As a reader, I’m definitely in the love it camp. If you have more than a passing interest in the publishing industry then the processes and machinations/ manipulation of how a book ends up on the bestseller lists may resonate with you – as will the reminder of the pain of Goodreads one star reviews!  Either way, I flew through the pages; I thought it so well written with its very readable writing style and moments of dark humour, an excellent read for me. 

Rebecca F. Kuang is a Marshall Scholar, Chinese-English translator, and the Astounding Award-winning and the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of the Poppy War trilogy and the forthcoming Babel. Her work has won the Crawford Award and the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale.

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