The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

“The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store”: American Progress
“The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store”: American Progress
Abby Edwards, Scoop Writer • May 3, 2024

In “The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store” by James McBride, It is no secret that Chicken Hill is a place of struggle, and in 1930, Jews and African Americans had to depend...


The Most Underrated Contestant For Glenbard South’s March Book Madness: “Yellowface” by R. F. Kuang

Source: Goodreads
Source: Goodreads

R. F. Kuang is the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of “The Poppy War” trilogy and “Babel: An Arcane History,” and made her thriller debut with “Yellowface”  in 2023. 

“Yellowface” is an engrossing thriller that throws the reader into the cutthroat world of publishing. The novel explores themes of race, cultural appropriation and representation, all through the lens of a literary theft. 

The novel follows the relationship of two characters: Juniper Hayward and Athena Liu. Despite their shared degrees from Yale, Athena has become the world’s literary darling, while Juniper has only published one (failed) book. Even still, the two have formed an odd and unlikely friendship. 

One night, after sharing a round of drinks, Athena dies in a freak accident, and Juniper sees her chance to finally achieve the successful career she has dreamed of. Juniper steals Athena’s unfinished manuscript and claims the novel as her own. Rewriting the novel, then publishing it under the name Juniper Song, she attempts to pass herself off as Chinese American, although she is white. The novel revolves around this central conflict. 

I finished the novel in two days and was completely engrossed from its first sentence. Kuang weaves a deceptive tale in which you spend the entirety of the book screaming internally at the main character, unable to draw your eyes away from the train wreck unfolding before you. The novel makes you cringe at the level of manipulation the main character employs to rationalize her actions. 

One of the most masterful qualities of the book is how Kuang drains the concept of writing of all its merit, turning it into a commodity that is sold for wealth, power and status. In “Yellowface,” books and writing are depicted as means to an end to gain stardom in the literary world. Kuang artistically captured how the selling and marketing of manuscripts in the publishing world can taint an artist’s work. Authors are not creating to create, but instead to win themselves fame and fortune. 

This is not the only criticism Kuang poses for the publishing world, as the central theme of the novel is the racism found within the publishing industry. While the novel is completely fictitious, the themes of race and identity ring true. Kuang places us inside of the mind of a perpetrator of racism and cultural appropriation, and exposes the discriminatory and selfish thoughts that fuel her ideology. 

In an interview with NPR, Kuang explained, “I think there is this strange myth that diversity is what’s selling, and that, in order to get opportunities, especially in hypercompetitive industries like publishing, you have to get your way through the door by pretending to be an ethnic identity that you don’t have.” Kuang continued that this idea is incorrect as “…we know from industry reports every year it’s still overwhelmingly in your advantage to be white in publishing.” 

Adding depth to the novel, Kuang continues to examine the idea of stealing stories with the character of Athena as well. Athena may be the victim, but she is also imperfect. Kuang depicts how Athena has been able to capitalize off of others’ tragedies, including Juniper’s. This adds a level of complexity that makes this book extra thrilling because no one is a hero. 

“Yellowface” by R. F. Kuang is ultimately a novel that challenges readers to confront and question the uncomfortable truths about the publishing industry in a deliciously entertaining manner. 

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About the Contributor
Emma Pekkarinen
Emma Pekkarinen, Editor in Chief

My name is Emma Pekkarinen and I am a senior and one of the Co-Editors in Chief this year. When I’m not writing articles for The Independent you can find me reading, baking, or enjoying a walk outside. At South I also am a member of Speech Team and Model United Nations. 

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