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?
She learns that June has cancer, and suddenly, Jayne is reeling. As she begins to reevaluate her life and enter into her sister's, she decides to make some changes and reflect on their shared history. Jayne will have to decide who she wants to be going forward and how to meet her sister somewhere in the middle of where they were and where they are now.
What I loved: This was an emotional and heavy read with some important themes about family, physical and mental illness, and finding yourself. Jayne experiences a lot of turmoil and character growth throughout the story, as she begins to deal with her eating disorder and anxiety as well as her past and present relationships. Along these lines, I really appreciated that the book contained some scenes from her therapy and group sessions that really make these seem feasible and helpful. Particularly in YA, this is really helpful to show and include.
The complexity of the sibling relationships as children and forged again as adults resonates here, and I appreciated that we get to understand more of the past that led to the present, as well as she how the decisions made along the way have impacted the two sisters. Ultimately, it's a book of emotional growth and familial healing.
Other themes, including sexism/racism in the workplace, abusive relationships, and healthcare costs/insurance issues in the US were also really interesting and thought-provoking. There is a lot to unpack and discuss in this book, and it would be great for a buddy read or book club for this reason.
Final verdict: An emotional coming-of-age story, YOLK tackles important and thought-provoking themes along the way to heartfelt personal and familial growth.