Sixteen-year-old Jenny Go’s entire life revolves her plan to get into a prestigious music conservatory. Jenny knows she is technically talented enough. But after her music teacher says her cello playing lacks spark, Jenny is worried that might not be enough.
Still smarting from the criticism, Jenny decides to try stepping out of her comfort zone when she meets a cute guy at her uncle’s karaoke bar in LA. Everything about this boy screams bad decision. But that doesn’t stop Jenny from having a great time with him. He even says he’ll keep in touch when he has to go back to South Korea.
But then he doesn’t.
Jenny’s plan to forget about the boy and focus on her music goes sideways when she finds out her grandmother needs surgery. Jenny and her mom are going to South Korea to support her with Jenny spending the semester studying at Seoul Arts Academy.
No one is more surprised than Jenny when she runs into Jaewoo at the school. And finds out he’s a member of one of the biggest K-pop bands ever.
XOXO is a big deal. Being friends with Jaewoo and the other members immediately puts Jenny under an unwanted spotlight. Pursuing a relationship with Jaewoo would be even worse when his label strictly forbids dating. Nothing about Jaewoo is part of Jenny’s plan. But sometimes you can’t plan for matters of the heart in XOXO (2021) by Axie Oh.
XOXO is narrated by Jenny with a fast pace and lots of humor. All characters are Korean or Korean American. Readers interested in audiobooks will also enjoy the audio production narrated by Greta Jung.
Meet cutes and clandestine hangouts abound as Jenny and Jaewoo find common ground despite their very different musical niches and try to decide if they can have a romantic future. Vivid descriptions of Seoul and Korean cuisine (both in LA and Seoul) will make readers feel like they’re right next to readers throughout the novel. Avid K-pop fans won’t find a lot of new takes on the world of pop groups and idols but Oh offers an accessible introduction for newbie fans and those unfamiliar with the musical genre.
XOXO is a exuberant ode to all things K-pop and music with cinematic romance complete with one big grand gesture. Recommended for romance fans and K-pop stans alike.
Possible Pairings: Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan, For the Record by Charlotte Huang, I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee, K-Pop Confidential by Stephan Lee, The Upside of Falling by Alex Light, Smash It! by Francina Simone, Night Music by Jenn Marie Thorne