Thursday, July 15, 2021 |

We all know it by this point, but social media sells books. I don’t know who retweeted a two-sentence synopsis of Axie’ Oh’s contemporary young adult novel XOXO in my feed on Tuesday when it released, but I was immediately smitten by the cover art and concept. IMMEDIATELY smitten as in ordered it online POSTHASTE. One-day shipping worked its magic and this K-pop and K-drama inflected love story arrived in the mail yesterday after lunch. Despite taking all-day teacher training classes this week (or maybe because of that?!), I read it in one afternoon and evening. As I write this review I am like, aglow with the cute, the fun, and the excellent chain of decision-making that led me to this book and its dreamy, secret romance. 


Jenny didn’t get to be an award-winning, classically trained cellist without choosing practice over fun. That is, until the night she meets Jaewoo. Mysterious, handsome, and just a little bit tormented, Jaewoo is exactly the kind of distraction Jenny would normally avoid. And yet, she finds herself pulled into spending an unforgettable evening wandering Los Angeles with him on the night before his flight home to South Korea.

With Jaewoo an ocean away, there’s no use in dreaming of what could have been. But when Jenny and her mother move to Seoul to take care of her ailing grandmother, who does she meet at the elite arts academy she’s just been accepted to? Jaewoo.

Finding the dreamy stranger who swept you off your feet in your homeroom is one thing, but Jaewoo isn’t just any student. Turns out, Jaewoo is a member of one of the biggest K-pop bands in the world. And like most K-pop idols, Jaewoo is strictly forbidden from dating anyone.

When a relationship means not only jeopardizing her place at her dream music school but also endangering everything Jaewoo’s worked for, Jenny has to decide once and for all just how much she’s willing to risk for love. XOXO is a new romance that proves chasing your dreams doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your heart, from acclaimed author Axie Oh.


Jenny Go is a talented and driven Korean-American girl living in L.A., attending a performing arts school, and planning her future. Her goal: to get into the best music school possible to achieve her dream of becoming a concert cellist. In her free time, she works at her Uncle Jay’s karaoke bar. When her uncle challenges her to be more spontaneous and live life in the moment, it leads her to an unexpected and perfect night out with a mysterious boy from Korea. But Jenny has a plan, and one encounter isn’t going to change her path… right? When an unexpected chance to travel to Korea presents itself, Jenny goes. There she meets her maternal grandmother for the first time, finds friends, and… runs into that boy from that one night in L.A.… only it turns out he’s a K-pop star. Jenny will have to grapple with secrets, figuring out what she values above all, and deciding whether a relationship is worth possibly losing everything you’ve worked for and dreamed about.


First things first: this is an adorable teen romance that deals with having big dreams and matching expectations for success, what celebrity culture means for the celebrity and those around them, and culture shock and the strangeness (and fun exploration) that comes with moving to a new place. It’s also a charming YA romance with supportive family members, healthy ambition, sweet friendship dynamics, and just the right amount of tension – Jaewoo and Jenny must keep their situation-ship under wraps for the sake of his budding career. There’s lots of fluff, and very little angst, to use fanfiction terms.


My favorite bit: Jenny! She’s a grounded soul: a little guarded, but a good listener and observer, passionate about music, and if you don’t fall in love with Seoul through her eyes (and through the food she eats!) then I don’t know what to tell you! I want to book a trip there like, now. I also loved the introduction to the way that the K-pop idol “machine” works! I had no prior knowledge about K-pop going in, and I got the context I needed through author Oh’s descriptions. I also appreciated the seamless inclusion of Korean language throughout the text. The feel, sound, smell, and tastes of Seoul (and L.A.’s Koreatown) set the stage for Jenny’s adventures and were a major strength of the book.


If I wanted anything more from this novel it would have been interactions between Jenny and her mother and grandmother. I could sense a deep well of love in their relationships, but it all plays a very secondary role to the main romance (as it should, to keep the story tight and moving along). If this story is ever made into a movie – and it 100% should be! – I would hope that they build out more plotlines based on Jenny’s family (and Jaewoo’s family, for that matter!). The scenes Oh included were heart-warming. And if I’m already creating a wishlist, let’s get to know the other members of XOXO too! I want follow-up books that feature Sun and Youngmin at the least (and Nathaniel and Sori deserve happy endings too, yes, okay, FINE!).


In all, XOXO is a hug in book form. I like books with high stakes as much as anyone, but every now and then it’s lovely to read something wholesome, heartfelt, with a light dose wish-fulfillment, and travel through it to a new place. XOXO is that book.


Recommended for: fans of young adult fiction and romance, anyone with an interest in K-pop or celebrity culture, and fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I've Loved Before.

1 comment:

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

This sounds like a recipe I'd love to try. I've never used almond flour, and I'm interested in seeing how it changes the composition of the cookie.

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