Yolk by Mary H K Choi

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Yolk by Mary H K Choi

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Amber Wells
Reviewed by Amber Wells
Summary: This book both broke my heart and mended it in a thousand different ways. The darkness of it won't appeal to everyone, but I can say with absolute certainty that this story will stick with me for many years to come.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: March 2021
Publisher: Atom
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0349003696

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Jayne Baek is a fashion student that's barely getting by. She drinks. She smokes. She makes bad decisions about the men she sleeps with. She's an all-round messy character; and that's her charm. June, on the other hand, is a complete contrast to Jayne. She's a typical older sister: she's smart, thinks she knows it all, and has a successful job. She constantly criticises Jayne for her life choices, and the two have barely kept in contact despite living in the same city for the past two years. This is until June finds out she's sick, and Jayne is the only person she can turn to. The two sisters have to come together and decide how far they'll go to save each other's lives – even if it means swapping identities.

What I liked most about reading from Jayne's perspective was how raw and real her thoughts and observations were. Nothing was filtered, and this definitely made me form a deeper connection to her character – even if she was unlikeable at times. She doesn't shy away from describing things as they are, and even as she made many bad mistakes throughout the novel, I still cared a lot for her.

One of the strongest aspects of this novel was the relationships between characters. There is a small romance plotline (this is YA, of course there has to be a romance plotline), but the familial relationships are what take centre stage in this story. The two sisters are thrown into the position of navigating their complex relationship; from the uncomfortable formality they have around each other to begin with, sipping on wine that they don't like and trying to be polite. To then being comfortable enough with each other to go from physically fighting one minute, to crying in each other's arms the next; watching their relationship grow was heart achingly beautiful. I'm certainly glad that Choi placed such a heavy focus on this sisterly relationship in this story because it was everything that I needed and more.

There are also many topics covered in this book that you can tell are close to the author's heart. We are offered an insight into what it's like being a Korean-American and all the struggles that can entail; Jayne often tries to prove her connection to her Korean culture, whether this be by buying the "right" brand of Korean food in the supermarket, or by comparing her fluency in Korean to her sister, she is always trying to prove that she is enough – even if no one is around to see this. Her constant thoughts of inadequacy, along with her struggles around food and body image, felt extremely authentic. Throughout the novel, I constantly wanted to reach into the book and give her a hug because of how much she was going through.

I also liked how many layers there were to the story. Throwaway descriptions and comments at the beginning of the novel turned out to have much bigger significances later on, and as these meanings are revealed, you begin to understand how awful the situation they are in is. The harshness of the American health care system is especially exposed through this style of narration, with small pieces of this terrible puzzle being handed to you until the bigger picture is seen: it's difficult, it's wholly unfair, and thousands of people are still desperately struggling under it every day. Having a good health insurance is a privilege in the USA, and even then, it sometimes isn't enough.

This novel handles many mature topics in a way that is sensitive but also honest in how gritty the reality of them are. Therefore, I would immediately suggest that this is a book for the older audiences of YA, especially since the main protagonist is a second-year university student. There are also descriptions of eating disorder behaviours in this book, so if you are sensitive to stuff like that, this book could potentially be triggering for you to read.

Everything about this book has left a mark on me, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested.

Further books to check out are Permanent Record by Mary H K Choi and Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

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