Author: Mary H.K. Choi
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Availability: March 2, 2021
Summary: [Content note: disordered eating, dysmorphia, and bulimia]
Jayne and June Baek are nothing alike. June’s three years older, a classic first-born, know-it-all narc with a problematic finance job and an equally soulless apartment (according to Jayne). Jayne is an emotionally stunted, self-obsessed basket case who lives in squalor, has egregious taste in men, and needs to get to class and stop wasting Mom and Dad’s money (if you ask June). Once thick as thieves, these sisters who moved from Seoul to San Antonio to New York together now don’t want anything to do with each other.
That is, until June gets cancer. And Jayne becomes the only one who can help her.
Flung together by circumstance, housing woes, and family secrets, will the sisters learn more about each other than they’re willing to confront? And what if while helping June, Jayne has to confront the fact that maybe she’s sick, too?
My review: Relationships between sisters can be complicated and Jayne and June are no exception. They were close in the past, but their estrangement has been going on for years with Jayne feeling inferior to her older sister and hoping June will one day actually like her. While there is a brief bit of a romance happening, the true love story is between these sisters. They’ve loved, they’ve caused pain, and they hide a lot from each other. They’re having a hard time figuring out how to be honest and relate in healthy ways. I appreciate seeing a story so focused in on sisters because there aren’t many like it. I also was happy to see that this is a YA book, but Jayne is in college. There seem to be more and more of those and it’s a good trend. College students are still on the young end of adulthood.
One other love story that was running throughout was the romance with New York City. It’s a spectacular place that Choi treats almost like another character. Jayne often feels invisible, but there are some aspects of the city that help her feel seen. The city can definitely chew folks up and spit them out, so Jayne also feels a sense of accomplishment by even just surviving there.
Given the content note regarding disordered eating, you can already assume this isn’t a comfortable story. It has many sharp edges and painful moments along the way. Jayne believes everything is random and everyone is disposable including herself. The more of herself that she hides, the more presentable and desirable she thinks she will be to others. The mother she doesn’t understand, her immigrant childhood, the restaurant she grew up in, and so much of her past is something she simply cannot be proud of or share and she keeps these things hidden. She wants to create the illusion of a totally different backstory.
Jayne’s story is not all sweetness and light, so it feels true. In moments of great joy, there can also be pain and in moments of great pain, there may be joy to be found. You won’t see a fairytale ending here, but there is a bit of hope in spite of the family turmoil and the difficult health issues.
Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this to those looking for a contemporary YA that will give them something to think about long after the story ends.
Extra: Online contact info and virtual tour dates (including a conversation with Jenny Han on pub day)