Morrow. May 2023. 336p. ISBN 9780063250833. $30. F
Who gets to tell stories about marginalized communities? In Kuang’s (Babel) engrossing novel, struggling white novelist June Hayward envies her friend Athena Liu, a Chinese American rising star in the publishing world. One night, while the two are celebrating Athena’s latest success at her home, Athena chokes on a piece of food and dies. While waiting for an ambulance, June takes the rough draft Athena had spoken of minutes earlier. Soon June gets Athena’s novel—about Chinese laborers during World War I—published under the pen name Juniper Song, with a racially ambiguous photo of herself on the back cover. But not long after the book becomes a hit, bloggers and Tweeters begin to argue about its validity. Kuang’s glaring look at the publishing industry puts a spotlight on inequality within the field.
VERDICT As the story unfolds, June becomes a slightly more nuanced character; however, as she tries to convince herself and others that she didn’t steal Athena’s manuscript during her misguided attempts at allyship, she flagrantly narrates her implicit biases to readers.
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