Reading Time: 2 minutes

Yellowface is a thought-provoking exploration of identity, culture and privilege, with the author RF Kuang delving into the complexities of race and representation through contemporary storytelling.

The novel challenges the readers to confront uncomfortable truths about racism and appropriation while also providing moments of empathy and understanding through its richly drawn, yet not always likeable, character, and compelling narrative.

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White lies: when Athena dies in a freak accident, June steals her unpublished manuscript and publishes it as her own under the ambiguous name Juniper Song.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

I found myself attached to the book despite disliking the main character June Hayward/ Juniper Song, who committed the crime of stealing her late friend Athena Liu’s unpublished book.

The reasons behind this act of creative theft are complex and include jealousy, thirst for power and seeking personal gain.

It is a tale that explores unfairness, harboured resentment and a thirst for karmic justice; although June says she is honouring her friend’s work in the best way possible, she also watched her die with no qualms.

In this book, nobody is a saint, as being good-hearted does not guarantee financial security, career success, fame or power.

The author skillfully portrays flawed and complex characters who challenge the reader’s perceptions.

There are no people in this book, there are only “white people”, “Asian people” and “cis-het people”, and I struggled with this as not everyone fits neatly into those categories.

Forcing this representation implies race is the only real important thing to consider.

Conversely, one of the standouts of the book is the author’s astute commentary on the perils faced by writers, such as internet trolls who use their freedom of speech rights to berate and belittle their creations.

Kuang’s evaluation of the publishing industry is layered and forces both publishing and the bookish community to do some re-evaluation, and the story skillfully examines the commodification of writers, where their looks, personality, color of their skin and online presence become as important as their writing itself.

This book is cleverly both absurd and unhinged because so is publishing and the book community.

It was what I expected it to be; an insightful critique of racism in the publishing industry.

If I was given this book without any indication on the author was, and asked to guess who wrote it I would never have said RF Kuang; this book was completely different from her previous masterpieces The Poppy Wars and Babel.

Julie Chessman – Book Shop Umina