In Yolk, author Mary H.K. Choi portrays a pair of estranged sisters. They’ve grown apart following their childhood in Texas and now both live in New York City separately. June is three years older, very successful in her vile finance job, and Jayne is in college and a bit egregious and self-obsessed. The two butt heads and it’s obvious why—they’re so different, yet both struggle with health—both mentally, and one physically. June is facing a terrifying cancer diagnosis, and Jayne realizes her sister might need her the most right now, even if she doesn’t act like it. After all, June is tough and independent. 


The book explores themes of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, depression, and other mental illnesses. Jayne sees a therapist and uses strategies to calm her anxiety when it spikes, while June spirals with her diagnosis, tunneling deeper into dark thoughts. 


Yolk makes it clear that mental health is a long-term journey, but there are ways to cope along the way that can help in moments of panic, anxiety, or other unwelcome thoughts.


After Jayne finds out about June’s diagnosis, her anxiety spirals on a train ride home. Using a strategy she learned from therapy, she counts five tangible things in her surroundings to ground herself back to reality. 


It’s also so weird that any news of death makes you almost immediately think of yourself. I’m determined to know how I’ll feel when June dies. I want to be able to see it, touch it, taste it so I can make sure I’ll survive.

The smoke of my breath on the subway platform seems like it should be warm, but it isn’t.

Juju is going to die.

One: black-haired girl in a red toggle coat.

Two: the kind of laughter that seeks an audience.

Three: trash can with a LITTER STOPS HERE sticker – torn.

Four: movie poster with Sharpied mustache.

Five: another puff of my breath.

One, two, three, four, five. Onetwothreefourfive.

She’d better not die. She’s nowhere near done.

One, two, three, four, five. (67–68)


Practice the grounding technique with your students in the lesson below!



Jennifer Epping is a high school English and journalism teacher in Des Moines, Iowa. She has a passion for reading, writing, and making lame jokes to her students just to see them laugh or roll their eyes. She just concluded her ninth year teaching. Epping graduated from Iowa State University with a BS in journalism and mass communication (2010) and BA in English Education (2013). She attended New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute (2010), and spent some time in children’s book publishing in New York.