Review: Yellowface

Title: Yellowface
Author: R.F. Kuang
Genre: Contemporary, Thriller
Publisher: HarperCollins Canada
Source: Publisher
Format: Paperback arc
Release Date: May 16, 2023
Rating: ★★★★★


Goodreads Synopsis:

What’s the harm in a pseudonym? New York Times bestselling sensation Juniper Song is not who she says she is, she didn’t write the book she claims she wrote, and she is most certainly not Asian American–in this chilling and hilariously cutting novel from 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.

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.

With its totally immersive first-person voice, Yellowface takes on questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation not only in the publishing industry but the persistent erasure of Asian-American voices and history by Western white society. R. F. Kuang’s novel is timely, razor-sharp, and eminently readable.


June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together and became authors, debuting in the same year. Athena became an award-winning author, while June’s debut didn’t even get a second publication in paperback. When Athena dies in a freak accident in front of June, June takes the secret manuscript Athena has just completed. June can tell immediately this manuscript about Chinese laborers in WWI is a masterpiece, so she edits it a little and sends it to her agent under her own name. Her publisher rebrands her as June Song and publishes the book. However, people start to see similarities between Athena’s work and June’s new novel. People on social media starts asking questions about why June wrote about a heritage that does not belong to her. June has to fight against this criticism while protecting her secret from the looming ghost of Athena. 

This book was amazing. It is an intriguing look at publishing, with references to real events that have happened in the industry. There was a lot more to the plot than was in the synopsis, but I don’t want to give anything away. One important point this story makes is about censorship and who has the right to tell a story. June was a white woman who published a book about Chinese heritage (though she didn’t write it) and at the same time the author of Yellowface is a Chinese-American woman who has written a book with a white woman as the main character. I loved the irony of that. Of course, authors don’t need to experience everything that they write about (murder mystery writers aren’t murderers), but there are exceptions to that. Though censorship can be problematic, it is more problematic to take the place of someone’s voice to tell their own cultural story. 

I highly recommend Yellowface for writers and anyone interested in publishing!

Thank you HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of this book. 

Content warnings: racism, cyberbullying, gaslighting, sudden death, choking, mentions of suicide, death of parent, broken bones

What to read next:

Babel by R.F. Kuang

Have you read Yellowface? What did you think of it?


Author: jilljemmett

Jill lives in Toronto, Canada. She has studied English, Creative Writing, and Publishing. Jill is the creator and content producer of Jill’s Book Blog, where she has published a blog post every day for the last four years, including 5-7 book reviews a week. She can usually be found with her nose in a book.

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