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All June Hayward has ever wanted is to be a literary prodigy like her friend Athena Liu. Both studied creative writing at Yale and both have joined the ranks of published authors. But only Athena has made the best seller lists, won awards, and landed a big TV deal. June’s convinced the industry is rigged in favor of people like Athena—beautiful, “diverse” writers of the moment—and that she’s only missing out on sales and media attention because she’s white and isn’t “cool.” So when Athena dies in a freak choking accident and no one but June sees it happen, June decides it’s only fair that she steal the sole copy of Athena’s latest manuscript. Athena’s book is a heavily researched epic about the Chinese Labor Corps in World War I, and June decides to edit it to her liking and publish it as her own. She’s paid her dues, and it’s her turn to shine, right? In R.F. Kuang’s deliciously uncomfortable thriller, the protagonist adopts the pen name Juniper Song and crosses every boundary in the hopes of building herself in Athena’s prestigious image, all the while misunderstanding the pressures her late friend faced as an Asian woman in the harsh spotlight of the publishing world. —Lucy Feldman

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