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R.F. Kuang’s literary satire Yellowface is taking the book world by storm — not just because readers can’t get enough of the dramatic twists and turns, but also because of its critique of diversity and racism in the publishing industry. It’s a wild ride filled with lies, messy friendships, social media chaos, and more. If you couldn’t get enough of this story about plagiarism, racism, and authenticity in art, check out these entertaining and thought-provoking books like Yellowface.
Yellowface tells the story of June Hayward, a young author who feels her writing hasn’t been as successful as she deserves. That’s especially true in comparison to her writer friend Athena Liu, who debuted at the same time as June but has been getting all the acclaim June lacks. When Athena dies in a shocking accident, June sees an opportunity. She grabs Athena’s unpublished manuscript about Chinese laborers in WWI, makes a few edits, and sends it to her editor as her own. We see June’s outrageous rise to the top of the book world under her new racially ambiguous pen name, Juniper Song, and the mental turmoil that follows her at every step.
These books like Yellowface may not have identical themes and tones, but you’ll find questions about artistic integrity, contemplations on race and racism, and revealing stories about the seedy underbelly of the media industry.
Books Like Yellowface
Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou
Taiwanese American PhD student Ingrid wants nothing more than to wrap up her dissertation and move on with her life. But while researching the famous Chinese poet at the heart of her work, she discovers a strange note that sends her on a wild journey to find out what it means. She unveils a massive deception that turns everything she knows about the poet on its head. Can she show the world the truth? Will they believe her if she does? Like Yellowface, it’s got a dark sense of humor and take on racism that turns its eye on the world of academia and poetry, and it will certainly keep you on the edge of your seat.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Nella is exhausted from years of micro- and macroaggressions as the only Black person who works at Wagner Books. So when another Black woman named Hazel starts working in the next cubicle over, Nella is thrilled to potentially have a new ally. When Hazel suddenly becomes everyone’s favorite coworker, and Nella’s hard work gets ignored, Nella wonders if something strange is at play. Her worries are confirmed when she starts receiving anonymous messages demanding she leave Wagner Books at once. It’s a dark, humorous, twisty tale of racism in publishing that crosses genres to keep you guessing through the last page. Even better, the TV series adaptation of The Other Black Girl is coming to Hulu on September 13.
The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya
Neela Devaki doesn’t make music in order to get famous; she’d rather write songs that push boundaries and create things that feel entirely new. Meanwhile, Rukmini’s pop music has earned her a passionate following on social media. When Rukmini covers one of Neela’s songs, and it goes massively viral, they strike up a friendship and creative partnership. But their careers grow in different directions, and soon, the whole internet questions who should get the credit. If you want to read more books about complicated relationships between artists and authenticity in creative work, The Subtweet is a must-read.
Homebodies by Tembe Denton-Hurst
Mickey’s life was finally going according to plan, and her flashy media job was bringing her dreams of being an influential writer within reach. But then she got fired. Furious enough to reveal the anti-Black racism she’d faced in her job, she posted a searing open letter online…which no one read. It isn’t until Mickey returns to her hometown and considers giving up her dream that another messy situation in the industry draws her back in. This is another drama-filled journey through the intersection of race, writing, and social media, this time featuring a protagonist considering walking away from the industry altogether. It’s a thoughtful contemplation on what demands for justice do to the people who make them and what sacrifices are made in order to fight for change.
Identitti by Mithu Sanyal, translated by Alta L. Price
Doctoral student Nivedita is better known by her online alias Identitti, which she uses to explore race in contemporary culture and her own German Indian heritage. She wants to follow in the footsteps of her intellectual influencer professor Saraswati — until Nivedita finds out that Saraswati is actually a white German who has been passing as Indian. As everything Nivedita understands about racial studies is upended, she’s forced to reconsider what she’s learned from her professor. And like in Yellowface, we see the online reactions to Saraswati’s reveal go viral in a blazing satire of racism, media, and academia.
Harry Sylvester Bird by Chinelo Okparanta
Harry Sylvester Bird couldn’t wait to get out of his closed-minded Pennsylvania town, away from his white racist parents, and live his truth in a more progressive place. He moves to NYC as soon as he’s old enough and falls for a young Nigerian woman named Maryam. But as Maryam pulls away from him, Harry starts to embrace a different identity, one he believes is his truth: a Black man who goes by G-Dawg. Chinelo Okparanta brilliantly satirizes white identity, allyship, and the racial tensions of our present moment through the eyes of one misguided protagonist in Harry Sylvester Bird.
I’m Not Done with You Yet by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Jane and Thalia had an intensely close friendship while studying creative writing at Oxford. But they lost touch after one disastrously terrible night. Now Jane is unhappy with her writing career, her marriage, the dilapidated old house she can hardly afford, and her life in general. When she sees Thalia’s name listed as an author on The New York Times Best Seller List, she’s determined to track down her best friend and restore their relationship, no matter how many questionable and dangerous decisions it takes. If you liked the toxic friendship between two writers and the mistakes from the past that haunt June in Yellowface, this twisty mystery/thriller is for you.
The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid
One day, a young white man named Anders wakes up having turned brown overnight. At first, he hides from the world, telling only his girlfriend, Oona. But then news reports start turning up, saying that white people turning a different race has become a worldwide phenomenon. We follow Anders and Oona as society grapples with the changes happening before their eyes. It’s a thought-provoking dystopian novel that casts questions on white identity and xenophobic anxieties in a demographically changing world. Much like Yellowface, it’s sure to start fascinating conversations about racism and whiteness.
And Then She Fell by Alicia Elliott (Sept. 26, Dutton)
Alice made a big decision to move away from her Mohawk community and into a new home in Toronto with her husband Steve, a white professor who just so happens to study Mohawk culture. Now that she’s given birth to a daughter, Alice feels lost and distant from her roots despite Steve’s constant support. When Alice decides to write a retelling of the Haudenosaunee creation story she grew up hearing, strange things start happening to her. And even though Steve says she’s imagining threats, they feel dangerously real. And Then She Fell has the social horror and paranormal elements in Yellowface with a novelist protagonist you’ll never forget.