Mary H. K. Choi, Yolk, Hachette Australia, March 2021, 400 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780349003696
This work is very much at the upper end of young adult books. It tells the story of the trials and tribulations of two sisters at a time when one of them is diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness. One of the sisters is in her twenties and the other at university.
The book is largely set in New York and, to a lesser extent, in Texas. The settings also allow the contrast between the lifestyles of the two sisters to be foregrounded. June, the older sister, lives in an immaculate apartment but is actually very untidy and disorganised – despite insisting on trying to organise the life of younger sister, Jayne. Jayne lives in a shared house with a sometime boyfriend and, although she likes to be organised, her living arrangements and her life are chaotic. There are a number of peripheral characters who drift in and out of Jayne’s life but we don’t get to see a great deal of them.
The relationship between the sisters becomes more problematic when June is diagnosed with uterine cancer and needs a major operation. She refuses to let their parents know she is ill; nor will she allow Jayne to tell them. The family is Korean-American and the ties of family are strong; Jayne finds it very troubling that her sister will not allow her parents to know of her illness although, at the very end, it is clear that Jayne has told her mother as she arrives at the hospital to the relief of both sisters.
The plot is complicated by the fact that, in order to receive subsidized medical treatment, June has taken on Jayne’s identity as the younger sister has access to the equivalent of Medicare as a student. There is little exploration of the long-term consequences of this change of identity beyond some references to the problems which would arise if June died while actually masquerading as Jayne.
This might be described as a ‘gritty’ novel, both because of the subject matter and the amount of swearing, much of which seemed rather gratuitous to this reader.
Reviewed by Margot Hillel