My Dead Frienemy Made Me Millions

Yellowface by R.H. Khang review

By Leah Moe, Entertainment Editor | The Metropolitan

Reading the contemporary book Yellowface by award-winning author R.H. Khang is like watching a 20-something white woman set her own life on fire. The story begins with Juniper, an unreliable narrator, celebrating with Athena, a Chinese American girl who has it all. Athena has book deals, M.F.A. programs, and now a deal with Netflix. Juniper contemplates their friendship, jealous of Athena’s success after her debut novel flopped. After a pancake-eating competition results in her rival suddenly choking to death. Juniper makes the split decision to steal Athena’s manuscript off her desk.

The reader is left with an entire book of Juniper’s murky justification of the theft. At first, Juniper dabbles with the idea of publishing Athena’s novel The Last Front in her memory but in the next breath explains, “I work so damn hard on it. I write every day from dawn to midnight.” Juniper’s strenuous efforts therefore meant she had a claim over the novel telling the story of the Chinese Labor Corps involvement with World War I. Heavy duty justification is needed when her pen name is changed from “June Hayward” to “Juniper Song” and when taking author portraits of when she was “extra tan.” She wasn’t trying to seem culturally ambiguous! She was simply trying to rebrand. June brings us through the epic success of her “reward bait” book— but the excitement of talking on panels and accepting numerous awards quickly sours when the controversy of plagiarism begins.

R.H. Khang’s book is an original representation of micro racism in the publishing industry. Although sometimes I craved more deviance from the main character, that might have given an excuse for some to rationalize their racist tendencies because “at least they’re not as bad as Juniper Song.” The focus on social media was surprising but also proved necessary to show the fragility of Juniper’s character. Social media defined the character’s mood, when the praise flooded, she was generous and happy but when the criticism came, she was cemented to her bed unable to face the world. The use of social media in this book also shows how Juniper never cared about being racially insensitive, she only cared about others’ opinions.

An important piece of this book is who has a right to tell this story. Is it okay for a white woman to spread the history of the Chinese Labor Corps or should it be saved for the veterans that went through it? Either way, Juniper never had that permission. This book showed the great power of the publishing industry to produce “the book of the season” and how there is no stability at the top. Especially, for those who steal a dead woman’s manuscript.