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Book Rec: Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

Updated: Apr 9

“I feel like a meme of a clueless white person.”

After reading this book, I wondered how many times this story is true? How often do we whitewash history? Who is guilty of cultural appropriation? And in the end, could this book have been written by a white woman? It was a fascinating tale of June and Athena and the whirlwind of Twitter. Discussion guide below as Yellowface would make a great read for any book club.

book jacket with eyes on a yellow background

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.

So what if June edits Athena's novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song--complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn't this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That's what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.

But June can't get away from Athena's shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June's (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

Discussion Guide

  1. Fiction helps us think outside our personal lives. How does this novel spark new thought? What stereotypes does it conjure?

  2. Kuang discusses the “token minority” – an industry's ongoing effort to hold up one token Black man or a token Chinese author and say, “we’ve done our duty.” How do you wrestle with this in society today?

  3. Who gets to tell which stories? Discuss your ideas on cultural appropriation. Is it dangerous territory to censor those who haven’t lived the experience (i.e., June writing about Chinese laborers in war)?

  4. Is any representation good representation?

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Sep 23, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

so good! Loved this one

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