Yolk | ARC Review

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

Published: March 2 2021

Pages: 400

Format: eARC (NetGalley)

Tags: YA Fiction, Contemporary, POC, Mental Health, New Adult, Romance

| Synopsis from the Publisher |

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.

Keywords to describe this book: character-driven, emotional, contemporary

TW: Eating Disorder

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing & Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

~My Thoughts~

Choi is an excellent writer, and this is one of the reasons I felt compelled to finish Yolk. It’s a very well-written, important YA contemporary fiction story. Choi has managed to create such realistic characters and placed them in a world that is believable and recognizable.

Essentially, this is a story of family and understanding oneself. Jayne Baek lives only blocks away from her sister in New York, but they haven’t spoken in ages. She feels many different feelings towards her sister, but a lot of it is resentment and anger. Throughout the course of the novel, Jayne and June find their lives inextricable tangled when June tells her that she has cancer. We see Jayne battle with herself and with her family in many different ways and, ultimately, try to come to terms with herself and her relationships with her sister and her mother. Not only is Jayne dealing with a family crisis in the form of her sister’s cancer, but she’s also dealing with her own internal struggles of mental health and her eating disorder. Choi makes a point of adding a disclaimer at the beginning of the book to warn readers that this book contains elements that might be difficult for the reader and also resources at the back of the book for any readers who struggle with/know someone who struggles with eating disorders.

Jayne is a very difficult main character to love, for me. She’s very prickly, can be very selfish, and very self-destructive. A lot of this has to do with her dealing with (or not dealing with, really) her relationship with food. She sees a therapist, but a lot of it is just show, because really she doesn’t want to focus on or admit to her own mental health issues. Throughout the book, Jayne makes one bad choice after the next, pushes people away, and constantly makes things worse for herself and for those around her. I really had to try and remain objective with her and look at what she’s going through rather than judge her, but it was difficult. I think, by the end of the book, I did end up liking her. Choi makes an effort to show Jayne’s growth and I do feel like she seems different by the novel’s close.

The representation of an eating disorder in this book is, to my mind, very realistic. Choi does not shy away from showing all of the things Jayne goes through when living with this disorder. It’s all relayed in unflinching detail, but not gratuitously. I think Choi very much wanted to paint a realistic portrait of this illness, not just to represent it accurately, but also, I think, to help any readers who might also be struggling with this and potentially guide them to seeking help for it. I also appreciate that Choi doesn’t make this the sole issue in the book. It’s there, but ultimately the book is about Jayne’s relationship with her sister, and that, to me, makes this book more realistic in my mind, and also less preachy.

The book also presents a look at the Asian-American experience. Jayne and her family are Korean. Her parents immigrated to the US with her and her sister when they were very little. Korean culture is shown throughout the book and Jayne even has in-depth conversations with characters about what it’s like growing up in a Korean family. As someone who loves learning about Korea and Korean culture, I really enjoyed this aspect of the book and I appreciate Choi’s sub-textual commentary on being Asian-American in the US.

Ultimately, I think I enjoyed this book. It took some getting used to, but overall, I liked the story and the characters, and I wanted to see how they faired by the end. I didn’t necessarily enjoy the open-endedness of the ending, but I couldn’t say necessarily that it was a bad ending or what I would want to be done differently.

Read Alikes:

| My Rating |

Definitely Worth the Read

This was a very well written book. I've read one of Choi's other YA novels and loved it. I didn't love this one as much, but what I do appreciate about it is its unflinching portrayal of a teen struggling with mental health (eating disorder), with family issues, and with not feeling at home in her own skin. Choi's writing is so vivid and honest that it feels like I'm reading a non-fiction story, that Jayne and June are real people I could go out and meet. 

I think there are many teens who will identify with this story and characters, which means I will definitely be recommending this book. It's definitely a "new adult" story, however, so I will definitely preface this by saying that it does include alcohol, drugs, and sexual situations.

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