What started as a slow reading month quickly became a surprisingly productive one, as I caught COVID last week. Self-quarantine has been a lot of napping, reading and watching TV on loop, but it does mean I managed to finish six books – five of them in the course of a week. Alas, I once again wimped out on picking up The Tales of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin, but I did read everything else from my April hopefuls list. It’s also tipped me into having completed 50% of my Goodreads 2022 reading challenge!
This month has been very strange overall, so it’s been really nice to have books so sink into for both escapism and inspiration. Here’s to a better May.
Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi
My boyfriend gifted me a copy of Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi, an author I really enjoy, for my birthday. I knew I wanted to pick it up as soon as I could, and I’m glad that I did because Yolk is a book that’ll stay with me for a long time. It’s easily one of the best books I’ve read recently, although it’s also a tricky one to easily recommend to friends.
Estranged sisters Jayne and June are reunited when June is diagnosed with cancer and needs to use Jayne’s health insurance for a life-saving operation. Incredibly raw, human and honest, Choi paints a vivid portrait of our innermost struggles.
The story is told solely from Jayne’s perspective and it does feel a little messy at first, but this works really well to show her internal conflict and struggles with life as a twenty-something Korean-American woman. I feel like I picked ‘Yolk’ up at an opportune moment: as I personally grapple with my identity, so does Jayne on a grander level. We follow Jayne as she wrestles with her home living situation, family struggles and owning up to her own decisions. Between her outward facade, struggles with work and school and a place in society, familial relationships and more, Jayne personifies a starkly real reminder that we’re all struggling with something. Jayne is a surprisingly likeable character, and the pacing of her self-discovery works beautifully in Yolk.
PS. I’m fully obsessed with Patrick.
CW: eating disorders, body dysmorphia, uterine cancer, hospital settings.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I’m so glad I decided to pick Where the Crawdads Sing up when I did, because this coming-of-age meets murder mystery novel really brightened my year of reading. I enjoy split perspective narratives, and it works particularly well in Owens’ slow unravelling of a small town mystery. It took a little while for me to get into it, but what a beautifully moving read Where the Crawdads Sing is.
Kya, known as ‘Marsh Girl’ by the local townspeople, is a sparkling protagonist who’s lovable, sensitive, naive and brilliant – I think she might be one of my favourite characters that I’ve discovered so far in 2022. Abandoned by her parents, unschooled, and yearning for love, Kya courageously steps through life, making of it what she can. The loneliness that Kya experiences is heart-wrenchingly brought to life in such a way that you feel the character escape the pages. Soon, Kya meets two boys who irrevocably change her path.
Alongside the gorgeous coming-of-age story and the carefully interwoven murder mystery, I also really appreciated the poetic way that Owens weaves in ethology and a fascination with nature. I believe the author is a zoologist themselves, and it’s perfectly integrated when Kya develops a love for collecting feathers and shells, and taking perfect note of her marshy surroundings.
There’s not much I can add to the Where the Crawdads Sing appreciation that hasn’t already been said, but this book is deserving of its praise and is one that’ll stay with me for a long time.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
Well… This book is nothing like the ‘books I usually read’, but I caved to the hype and finally managed to snag a copy of The Love Hypothesis from my local library.
Olive is a third-year PhD candidate, pitching her latest experiment to professors, while Adam is The Professor and a well-known ass. If you can believe it, in order to convince her best friend Anh that she’s over her ex, Olive kisses the first man she sees in the corridor. Consent issues aside… Bewilderingly, the man – Adam – agrees to the charade and plays along with a fake-relationship. Fake-relationship tropes can go one of two ways: cheesy and predictable, or exciting and something to invest in. Here, it’s surely the former, with coffee dates, in-public mishaps and the like. It’s sweet and funny, though.
The story really moves when Olive and Adam arrive at the conference, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, there’s a now-infamous spicy scene, but it also pushes the plot forwards and we actually learn something about the two main characters. In hindsight, it’s bewildering how little I knew about them until now?
All that being said, there’s something remarkably enjoyable about this book. It might be the unusual academic setting or the easygoing way that Olive presents, but I can’t deny that I did like it. Also, the ‘spicy’ scenes that made this book go viral on Twitter and TikTok were somewhat unbelievable, but I suppose I’m far older and wizened than the target audience!
Café at 46 Old Street by Hannah Cao
This is a sweetly warming debut from Hannah that brought me a lot of comfort as I read it on an early spring sprint. There’s a really likeable, soft naïveté to the author’s voice that lends itself perfectly to all four characters, who bring depth and dimension, and there’s so much minuscule attention to detail that you can tell the author has breathed her own heart’s pieces and soul’s mists to this work.
Café at 48 Old Street reads like a romanticised scrapbook of a captured moment in London. It moves endearingly slowly, character-led from the very start, and we watch on as protagonists Hanh, Winston, Clementine and Alexander try to find their ways in the world. Like I said, the soft naïveté that runs throughout works really well in this coming-of-age story. It brought me back to my pre-Uni days of feeling prematurely nostalgic for my formative years, viewing big cities through rose-tinted lenses and of all the baggage it feels like you have. (Oh, sweet summer child…)
Overall, I enjoyed this debut. It’s charming and touching in its own way, and the characters were wonderfully explored, although I do think they could’ve had more punch and the friendships fleshed out. I love that the café is a character in itself, and the way the story explores friendships that unexpectedly spark from simple coincidences. I also think it could’ve done with a native English editor’s eye – an editor by trade myself, I noted a few parts that could’ve been elevated with a touch more tailoring.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
This was our April pick for the Lit Asian Lit Club, and I’m so glad that it gave me a chance to reread one of my favourite books. If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha gives a searing insight into the lives of four young women, living and existing in modern-day Seoul, South Korea.
Cha achieves a warming and soulful novel here, candidly exploring the face of beauty and identity. Told via four characters, I still can’t quite put my finger on what exactly makes this book an always-favourite for me.
Concerning My Daughter by Kim Hye-jin
This novella is one that I’ve been ruminating since I finished reading it. In this translated fiction, Kim Hye-jin (and Jamie Chang) accomplish a quiet vignette into the tormented life of an ageing, homophobic mother in South Korea. There isn’t any sort of family saga feel to this book, however, it’s quite simply an exploration of one mother-daughter relationship.
Like I said, the protagonist here is an ageing, homophobic mother, which makes for uncomfortable reading. When she allows her thirty-something daughter Green to move back in with her, Green turns up with her girlfriend Lane in tow. The author accomplishes an instant sense of distance here, as there’s a sort of running internal monologue going on. The mother is unwilling to welcome Lane into her home: she wants Green to find a steady income, a good husband, and to start a (traditional cis) family.
The mother is also a carer, by trade, offering palliative care to those at the end of their lives. This humanises the mother; you see how much she cares for her patients. But why can’t this translate to her own daughter?
Quiet, moving, touched with political activity, and emotional, Concerning My Daughter came together nicely for me.
- The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh
- The Pyjama Myth by Sian Meades-Williams
- The Tales of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin
- Sword Art Online 001 by Reki Kawahara (reread)
What did you read in April? Share your top read with the community below!