Book Reviews

Review: Private Label by Kelly Yang

As someone who’s mother recently developed cancer, I was not prepared for how much Private Label would rip out my soul. But it does. The ways that this sudden discovery changes our world. The very ideas of our future? Heart wrenching. And Private Label does that and more. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.


Serene dreams of making couture dresses even more stunning than her mom’s, but for now she’s an intern at her mom’s fashion label. When her mom receives a sudden diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, all that changes. Serene has to take over her mother’s business overnight, dealing with ruthless investors who do not think a seventeen-year-old can run a fashion empire, while trying to figure out what happened with her dad in Beijing. He left before she was born, and Serene wants to find him, even if it means going against her mom’s one request—never look back.

Lian Chen moved from China to Serene’s mostly white Southern California beach town a year ago. He doesn’t fit in at school, where kids mispronounce his name. His parents don’t care about what he wants to do—comedy—and push him toward going to MIT engineering early. Lian thinks there’s nothing to stick around for, until one day, he starts Chinese Club after school . . . and Serene walks in.

Worlds apart in the high school hierarchy, Serene and Lian soon find refuge in each other, falling in love as they navigate life-changing storms.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

TW: racism

I could write an entire essay about how relatable Private Label is. The way that a diagnosis can entirely change our sense of time. Our sense of the future. How it can feel to hear a loved one talk about their struggles and them wanting to enjoy their quality of life. While also knowing that you can’t imagine a life without theirs. To say Private Label is moving, especially to those who have experienced cancer in their family, is an understatement. For that reason alone, it stole my heart.

But at the same time, Private Label explores the insidious comments and racist remarks of mostly white communities. Of feeling so out of place and having these remarks that add up. The conversations about retaining a ‘brand image’ and having ‘marketability’. How these discussions end up occluding racist ideas. And all these pieces of ourselves we chip off to slide under the radar, for success. The numerous situations we get ourselves into, the exploitation from others, all so the feeling of being Othered isn’t as extreme.


All in all, Private Label is an emotional tour de force. The internalized racism and the standards of whiteness that we are subjected to growing up. There were so many pieces of this book that tore at my heart. To my own struggles growing up in a mostly white community with the comments, with the own choices I made. Additionally, Private Label examines the pressure of standardized tests. Of this idea that we can get on the ‘right path’ even earlier. It explores the conflict of our dreams versus what is secure and stable.

(Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links. For more information you can look at the Policy page. If you’re uncomfortable with that, know you can look up the book on any of the sites below to avoid the link)

The gap between what we should be doing and what we do, what we feel we have to do. Private Label also discusses whether we should allow ourselves to be pushed out of these white spaces or to stay and fight. To honor our desire to have a safe space, while also realizing that if we don’t say something, nothing will ever change. While Private Label is certainly an emotional book, the romance story line is also so precious. It’s a book that hits the emotional highs and lows.

Furthermore, it’s a book that highlights the importance of making our own space. Of taking up our own space independent from these forces which pull what they want from us and push us into someone else. Find Private Label on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.


Do you have any other book recs with characters who have a family member with cancer?

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.