Title: Yolk (review copy)
Author: Mary H.K. Choi
Genre/Themes: Older Young Adult (New Adult), Contemporary, Sibling dynamics, Emotional Drama, Bulimia, Character driven, disordered eating, dysmorphia, cancer, female fertility, parental abandonment
Blurb from Goodreads
From New York Times bestselling author Mary H.K. Choi comes a funny and emotional story about two estranged sisters switching places and committing insurance fraud to save one of their lives.
Jayne Baek is barely getting by. She shuffles through fashion school, saddled with a deadbeat boyfriend, clout-chasing friends, and a wretched eating disorder that she’s not fully ready to confront. But that’s New York City, right? At least she isn’t in Texas anymore, and is finally living in a city that feels right for her.
On the other hand, her sister June is dazzlingly rich with a high-flying finance job and a massive apartment. Unlike Jayne, June has never struggled a day in her life. Until she’s diagnosed with uterine cancer.
Suddenly, these estranged sisters who have nothing in common are living together. Because sisterly obligations are kind of important when one of you is dying.
Mary H.K. Choi needs a never ending round of applause.
Yolk is an absolute tour de force work of fiction that needs to be read by the masses. The book follows the story of Korean-American Jayne as she tries to make sense of her world.
Jayne is a wonderfully compelling character to read about. She is so beautifully human and deeply flawed which makes her feel truly authentic. But being inside her head is… well sometimes it’s incredibly frustrating but it was always absorbing. She’s struggling with deep rooted emotional issues some of which are family related, others which are founded in the way that western society is dictated by a Eurocentric aesthetic, and also how as a Korean American she felt somehow neither American enough nor Korean enough. There’s so much complexity in this book but it’s all handled with care and sensitivity. I wanted to reach into the novel and shake Jayne at times, but mostly I wanted to reach in and hug her. Her pain is so visceral. It’s so visible but yet she denies it. She tries to hide it. Her struggles with her own self image and self worth are difficult to read about because I truly experienced her sadness as a reader.
Please be aware that this book provides a deep insight into bulimia and issues surrounding body dysmorphia, and therefore if this is a potentially triggering subject for you you need to be prepared for rather graphic detail. Please be gentle with yourself and read only if you have a suitable support system in place so that you can safely discuss any upset that you may experience.
The book also follows a female reproductive system cancer storyline which does touch on issues of infertility and heavy, dysmenorrhea so please be advised if this is something that may be upsetting to you.
During her time in New York Jayne has become estranged from her elder sister June, but upon discovering that June has cancer the two begin to have a relationship again. And this is where the novel truly excels. Their relationship is written with such careful detail, such emotion, and incredible sensitivity. The undeniable love between the two sisters is intertwined with hatred, jealousy, feelings of inadequacy… the book doesn’t shy away from showing the complexities of sisterly love and is all the better for illustrating this dichotomy of love and hate that can exist within family ties.
As a white Irish woman living in Ireland all my life I have no personal experience of what it’s like to have immigrant parents and how that impacts my cultural identity. This book explores the experience of being Korean American, and I personally found this aspect of the novel to be incredibly compelling and insightful.
At times I struggled to like both Jayne and June as characters. But that was because the book was very “warts and all”. No aspect of their personalities was hidden, they who appeared on the page as very much wholly realised characters and that meant that they both had traits that are less than desirable as we all do as human beings. Sometimes though, this meant that I struggled a little bit when it came to empathising with the characters; I think that’s quite a human response on my part though, rather than a flaw of the novel because in my opinion it helped the novel re the journey of the two main characters to ebb and flow in a very natural manner.
I really do have to make brief mention of the story’s climax. Without wishing to give away any spoilers what I can say is that it was one of the most authentically emotional and cathartic endings to a novel I have ever read. It was perfect in both tone and pace, and is the reason why I feel this book should be read by as wide an audience as possible. I think the dissection of human relationships in this novel is incredible, and that readers of both YA and adult fiction would enjoy this story in equal fashion.
A word about the categorisation of this novel:
The book is categorised as young adult fiction but I think it is a perfect candidate for the NA categorisation as the main character is in her late teens, post high school, and it does deal with issues that affect that age group rather than the younger age range of YA. I wish that this type of novel was typical of the NA categorisation instead of what currently passes for NA e.g. stories focusing on nerdy college virgins who are *taught* how to orgasm by some alpha jock with daddy issues and a super hot, mean-girl ex girlfriend who ends up being slut shamed by other girls because females can’t support each other…………. EYE ROLL CENTRAL!
Overall this was a brilliantly written novel that I would heartily recommend to lovers of contemporary fiction with realistic characters.
*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review*
Publishing 4th March 2021, Atom/Little, Brown Book Group UK