11 Jan / Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi [in Shelf Awareness]
Youthful romance has made Mary H.K. Choi (Permanent Record; Emergency Contact) a bestselling #OwnVoices author. In Yolk, she effectively pivots toward the familial, focusing the most significant of the book’s relationships on two Seoul-born, San Antonio-raised sisters. Devoted audiences need not worry here about missing a love story – possibly three – but what lingers longest is the resonating, multifaceted story of Jayne and June Baek.
Once upon a time, the sisters were so close as to be mistaken for twins; as adolescents, their relationship devolved into relentless antagonism and occasional violence. In high school, June turned inward and studious while Jayne was more desperate for social acceptance and approval. As young women, the pair have become estranged New Yorkers. At 20, Jayne is a distressed design school student, living an hour away from her classes in a grim Brooklyn sublet. Her roommate, Jeremy, who was once an object of her obsession, then a live-in hook-up, these days resembles a pretentious, parasitic lothario who owes her way too much money.
Just a block and a half from Jayne’s school is June’s shiny, doormanned Manhattan high-rise where Jayne has never been welcome – until the night June summons her to Chelsea. Only three years older, June managed a full ride to Columbia, turning that Ivy League degree into a high-powered hedge fund career. Beyond buying Jayne a new mattress when she was ejected from her first New York City apartment, June has kept a distance from Jayne’s seemingly endless dramas. Until now.
June is sick. Really sick. A perennial workaholic, June is suddenly home all the time, which Jayne discovers when she abandons her heat-less squat for June’s couch. Keeping secrets in such close quarters proves impossible: the truth is, June’s glittering tower is on the verge of collapse. Meanwhile, Jayne has plenty of her own baggage to shed. Moving forward, somehow together, will demand the reluctant, aching mending of frayed sororal bonds.
Like the Baek sisters, Choi, too, is Korean-born, was partially raised in Texas, and lived in New York as a young adult. While her author’s note assures “This is a work of fiction,” she also lays bare her “own history with disordered eating, dysmorphia, and bulimia.” Her openness – personally, culturally, geographically – gives her narrative a seamless, insider fluency; her writing is consistently assured, her dialogue nimbly tuned, even her pain potently channeled through Jayne’s struggles. As Choi moves the wary sisters toward reconciliation, the most difficult lesson they’ll need to learn is embracing vulnerability – to discard harshness, admit need, accept help, and draw strength from renewed connections.
Shelf Talker: Sudden, serious illness forces two Korean American sisters – once as close as twins – to confront their estrangement and rediscover the empowering strength of their sororal bond.
Readers: Young Adult