I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi
Also by this author: Permanent Record
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on March 2, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 399 •Format: E-ARC •Source: Overdrive
From New York Times bestselling author Mary H.K. Choi comes a funny and emotional story about two estranged sisters and how far they’ll go to save one of their lives—even if it means swapping identities.
Jayne and June Baek are nothing alike. June’s three years older, a classic first-born, know-it-all narc with a problematic finance job and an equally soulless apartment (according to Jayne). Jayne is an emotionally stunted, self-obsessed basket case who lives in squalor, has egregious taste in men, and needs to get to class and stop wasting Mom and Dad’s money (if you ask June). Once thick as thieves, these sisters who moved from Seoul to San Antonio to New York together now don’t want anything to do with each other.
That is, until June gets cancer. And Jayne becomes the only one who can help her.
Flung together by circumstance, housing woes, and family secrets, will the sisters learn more about each other than they’re willing to confront? And what if while helping June, Jayne has to confront the fact that maybe she’s sick, too?
I’ve found that there’s something so incredibly raw and real about Mary H.K.Choi’s writing, and her novel Yolk is no exception. A tale of two sisters both trying to make their way in NYC, Yolk confronts the messy, indulgent, and self-destructive tendencies of the younger generation today in a world where a carefully crafted persona is oftentimes prioritized over well being and relationships, and the extreme loneliness and sadness that lives beneath that lifestyle.
Protagonist Jayne was honestly hard to read at times. She’s messy, selfish and materialistic, but also so desperately eager for attention and affection that its honestly heartbreaking. Reading her narrative almost felt violating in a way because it was all so raw- no one has seen her without eyeliner in years, her roach filled apartment is endured so she can have the clout of living in NYC, her eating disorder is hidden behind rituals and perfect instagram filters to create the illusion of a perfect life. Juxtaposed against Jayne is June, her sister who is so incredibly out of touch with Jayne’s type of lifestyle but is hiding in her own way, behind money and sarcasm and career success. Both sisters are so painfully different and alike at the same time, yet often were unlikable- and yet they were all the more real for it.
There’s so much going on in this story, from identity struggles from living within two cultures, mental health, toxic relationships, familial expectations, and even the woes of the American health care system. It’s incredibly messy and overwhelming at times but so is life and the portrayal of having to carry anxiety about the mundane right along with the catastrophic is eerily realistic. In addition to the sisters’ navigating their own troubled yet deep relationship the novel also explores how they become almost a united front when visiting their parents back in Texas, exploring the ways in which each struggle with their traditional immigrant parents and internalized the difficulties of their childhood in different ways that manifest as adults. I thought this was an excellent portrayal of the complexity of the sibling bond- how you can be as different as night and day but are inextricably bound by the unique experience of being raised by the same two flawed individuals, causing you to view life through a lens that only your sibling can ever really truly understand.
Though there’s honestly a lot of trauma in this book (both revisited through past events and happening in the current plot), there’s also a thread of resiliency that unexpectedly and emotionally peaks at the end of the story. It’s a little surprising but at the same time feels so right, and I applaud the author for being able to craft a novel with such an uncomfortable tone that still manages to make readers feel a sense of trust and relief, however complex, by the end.
It’s also worth noting that there are extensive descriptions of sensitive topics such as cancer, eating disorders, and body dysmorphia. If those topics are troubling to you I would recommend passing on this particular story.
Overall: Yolk is the perfect example of what the New Adult genre should be. A complex, emotionally charged yet compulsively readable story about the messiness of bridging the gap between teen and true adult.