Fantasy writer R.F. Kuang (Poppy War trilogy) pivots toward deliciously shocking realism in Yellowface, committing to the page the whispered wink-wink-nod-nod truths within the publishing world. With utter aplomb, she presents a delightful takedown of quotidian microaggressions and blatant racism, of social media and cancel culture, of literary covens and easy betrayal, packaged in a subversive narrative about achieving authorial fame.
"Athena Liu is, simply put, so fucking cool," Junie Hayward admits. They're "friends by circumstance," having attended Yale together. They're both writers, but "Athena gets every good thing, because that's how this industry works. Publishing picks a winner--someone attractive enough, someone cool and young and, oh, we're all thinking it, let's just say it, 'diverse' enough." Athena's got multiple bestsellers, prizes, even a Netflix deal. In the meantime, Junie--yes, she's white--has an obscure first novel. "I'd expected [Athena] to skyrocket out of my orbit by now," Junie confesses, but they still meet regularly--until that fateful evening when pandan pancakes at Athena's posh apartment prove fatal for Athena. It's career-boosting for Junie, who soon thereafter has a brilliant new manuscript to deliver to the world.
Prodigious Kuang is not unlike Athena, having written The Poppy War as a Georgetown undergraduate. She's currently in a PhD program at Yale after earning degrees at Cambridge and Oxford. Yellowface might not be a perfect novel--it meanders, and the ending feels predictable--but it is an unquestionably entertaining exposé of a mysterious enterprise seemingly controlled by "the Powers That Be" and their "chosen." Junie's not wrong: "Academics and scholars will have a field day with this text." So, too, will readers. --Terry Hong, BookDragon