Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi
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.
Yolk is my first Mary H.K. Choi book. I’ve heard so many good things about her books, but I was blown away reading this. Yolk is a messy, jumbled, and painfully real coming of age story about two estranged sisters coming together that resonated so deeply with me.
Jayne is the narrator, but the book revolves around her and June, her older sister. Yolk is new adult, technically; Jayne is twenty and June is twenty-three, and both of them read like young adults who are struggling to find their way in the world and dealing with their struggles in the best way that they know how to, which isn’t always a good way. Jayne had a great narrative voice that kept me engaged the whole time.
What I loved about this book was that it was so raw and painful and complicated, as real life often is. Both Jayne and June have a complex upbringing, and it’s reflected in both of them – Jayne’s depression, impulsivity, and her eating disorder; June’s high achieving and poor social life. Neither of them are in any way good at emotions or communicating them. The two argue often, miscommunicate, and hurt each other, and commiserate with each other–sometimes all on the same page. It’s a fraught relationship, but you can see the pieces coming together and you can see how this family cares about each other and loves each other despite all the difficulties they have.
That being said, this book deals with eating disorders, body dysmorphia, health, and depression. It never becomes too heavy, but it’s constantly in the background. Bulimia and binge eating isn’t something I often see in books about eating disorders, so it was good to read about that facet of disordered eating, and I think it will resonate hard with people who struggle with disordered eating. It also ties in with Korean culture and the experiences of being an immigrant, being distanced from your culture and language, and what it means to fit into American culture as a Korean immigrant.
Yolk was a stunning dive into Mary H.K. Choi’s writing; it’s not an easy read, but it is a deeply personal and realistic coming-of-age story. I will certainly be picking up her other two books.
content warnings | disordered eating behaviour, cancer, fatphobia, body image, depression, drug and alcohol use
representation | korean-american main character, bulimic main character