Yolk

- Mary H.K. Choi

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Jayne Baek is barely getting by. She shuffles through fashion school, saddled with a deadbeat boyfriend, clout-chasing friends, and a wretched eating disorder that she’s not fully ready to confront. But that’s New York City, right? At least she isn’t in Texas anymore, and is finally living in a city that feels right for her.

On the other hand, her sister June is dazzlingly rich with a high-flying finance job and a massive apartment. Unlike Jayne, June has never struggled a day in her life. Until she’s diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Suddenly, these estranged sisters who have nothing in common are living together. Because sisterly obligations are kind of important when one of you is dying.

Genres:

My Review:

absolute favourite:
5/5
4.5 stars

Oh boy, this was a trip.

I hated Jayne and June – they were dysfunctional and deeply unlikable. Their problems were stupid with easy fixes, and they kept making the wrong choices repeatedly, almost as if they were purposefully trying to make things worse. In the beginning, there wasn’t enough information to figure out what had happened in their relationship to leave them in this stilted, awkward place, and it made me, as the reader, feel uncomfortable as well. It didn’t make sense, and I kept asking myself why I was reading Yolk – was I even enjoying it?

The narrative is totally character-driven and not a lot happens plot-wise, but the characters go through a lot. Every chapter opens the door a little wider, shining more light onto the lives of these sisters and their relationship. It took me so long to start liking them, though. Like, up until the last few chapters, I was still questioning why I hadn’t stopped reading when, suddenly, I realised I didn’t actually hate them anymore, and I finally understood their relationship. At that point, I realised that I was really enjoying Yolk, and then – it was over. How could it end like that?! It felt so sudden – I had barely accepted my love of this book before the door was slammed shut and the story was over.

Sisters never stand a chance to be friends. We’re pitted against each other from the moment we’re born. A daughter is a treasure. Two is a tax.

I think anyone with a sister will find something in this story that resonates with them. I don’t even have legitimate drama with my sister (that I’m consciously aware of at least…), but then again, I think we can all appreciate how subjective memory can be. Yolk demonstrates this so well by showing how two people growing up so close together in the same family can have entirely different memories and experiences of the same events. The exploration of Jayne and June’s relationship is a poignant reminder of this, and by the end, I was living for it.

"I think just being in a family is what screws you up. I’m never going to fully understand them. And it’s fucked up because that means they’re never going to understand me. But who knows." I shrug. "Maybe it’s designed that way for a reason. Families are such fucked-up tiny cults."

"Makes sense," he says. "Marriages are the original tiny cult."

The narrative touches on many big subjects; family, eating disorders, health care, and immigration – to name a few. I was impressed with how well this was done by addressing big topics indirectly. Sometimes I didn’t even realise how deep we were into something until I was right in the middle of it.

I understand the romance subplots were introduced to demonstrate growth (especially when it came to Jayne) and drive home the immigrant experience (focusing on growing up on the outside, looking in) – but I didn’t find them integral to the story. Instead, they mostly just made me dislike Jayne and her dumb choices. It was almost as if she identified the correct decision and then consistently chose to do the exact opposite by jumping when she should pause and remaining paralysed when she should jump. If the spotlight had been solely on Jayne, June, and their relationship rather than diverting to unnecessary romantic exploits, this would’ve been absolute perfection (the full five stars, not just 4.5, rounded up).

I stare out the window. What’s the point? The planet is on fire and everything is random.

I struggled to understand how I felt about this book while I was reading it, but it all came together in the end in such a satisfying, surprising way. I immediately recommended it to so many people – something resonated so deeply with me, and while I may not completely understand why, I know it was definitely worth the read.

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