Books: ‘XOXO’ by Axie Oh Review

Image of the front cover of ‘XOXO’ by Axie Oh. Copyright goes to Axie Oh, artist Zipcy, and publisher ‘Harper Teen’.

Hi! It’s Annie!

Lately I’ve been pretty indecisive when it comes to deciding the next K-Drama I want to watch. It doesn’t help that I have a bit of a time limit when it comes to these things because my family is going on vacation soon. So I instead turned to something I didn’t previously know existed and was a little bit unexpected. I turned to K-Drama style books about K-Pop. Which I wish I knew existed at least a year ago because it effectively combines three of my all time favorite things; K-Pop, K-Dramas, and reading. ‘XOXO’ was a recommendation from a friend. I was impatient to read it the minute I saw her review and I knew that the book even existed. I got it the day before yesterday and finished it in a day and a half and am already re-reading it. That’s how amazing this book is. If you haven’t read this book already, go ahead and do that. This review will be full of MASSIVE SPOILERS and this is such a heartwarming and wholesome read, I promise you that you don’t want to miss out. Especially if you’re in love with K-Pop and K-Dramas as much as I am. Because this book is a lot like a K-Drama only in book form, I’m going to review it in the same way I do K-Dramas. With that aside, I’m just going to get into it!

Synopsis: High Schooler, Jenny Go, is rapidly pursuing her dream of becoming a professional cellist with no distractions. But when an audition and some advice force her to realize that she’s not living her life to the fullest, she makes a needed rash decision to challenge a boy that she doesn’t recognize at first. A couple days and some surprising news later, she finds herself in an entirely new country and back with the boy who made her feel alive. Though this time it might be more difficult to get to him than she initially anticipated.

The Good:

Female Lead: Firstly, I just want to say how amazing Jenny is. Too many times in both books and K-Dramas made for young adults have I seen a female character be a completely blank slate for the sake of allowing the reader or watcher to project themselves onto them. I never really appreciate this decision; I would much rather have the character have a personality and be relatable than be a self insert. This is partly personal preference, but I find self insert characters to be bland and barely characters of their own. How can you relate to a character with no personality? That’s why I liked that Jenny had a personality and that she was made to be relatable. She had backstory trauma, but it wasn’t an unrealistic amount. She also stood up for herself when she needed to, but she was never shown to have no weaknesses. I personally liked that we saw her cry on a few occasions during this book, because strong never means emotionless. Jenny had a lot of depth, a specific and realistic way she talked to her friends, and plenty of moments to show off her badassery. I thought she was an incredibly well rounded character that was always an entertaining point of view.

Male Lead: Oh, Jaewoo. What can I even say about this character? Some of what I saw the most in reviews before purchasing this book were comments about how dreamy Jaewoo is as a character. I have to agree, there’s really not a choice here. Jaewoo is this perfect mix of sweet, sarcastic, responsible, and witty. And even with all these amazing personality traits, he doesn’t suffer from perfect boyfriend syndrome. Jaewoo is responsible to a fault, often pushing some of his own worries off on bandmates and, let’s be honest, he isn’t the best at confrontation. We stan flawed characters in this house because it makes them realistic! More than that though, Jaewoo is just the best boyfriend and the best band member. I loved that this author took care to show us Jaewoo genuinely caring about and having a relationship with his fans. A lot of stories like this will completely dismiss the fans, but Oh put all blame on paparazzi which is exactly where it should be. Jaewoo also has this amazing knack for making everyone around him feel safe, which in turn makes the reader feel safe when you’re reading about him. He’s nothing short of a dream boyfriend and probably the character that made this book for me.

Side Characters: These side characters were adorable and so completely lovable. Sori is the perfect enemy to friend story that you see in so many dramas, but it was so satisfying to see her take a step beyond that and become the best friend. She ended up being one of my favorite characters in the entire book. Sori has her own personal trauma, but when Jenny later goes through similar things it opens her up to become the ultimate supportive friend. The one who holds Jenny when she cries, the one who laughs with her on the floor of the dance studio, and the one who ends up performing a duet with her. This has to be one of my favorite depictions I’ve seen of a female friendship ever. Not many are written this realistically and I appreciated it to an extent that I can’t even put into proper words. Angela and Gi Taek are both amazing and adorable, and I loved the addition of Gi Taek specifically because it meant more female-male platonic relationships! Those are very rare and I love when I can get them!

XOXO: The band, with the exception of one member I’ll talk about later, was amazing. Nathanial was hilarious and another one of my favorite characters. Most of the time I laughed out loud while reading, it was probably his fault. I loved that he was the kind of smarmy and sarcastic type, I always gravitate towards those characters. Youngmin was adorable and I wanted him to be in more of it. I beamed every time he entered the story again. But most of all, I loved how the group was portrayed. They had an immense love of their fans, an immense love of each other, and an incredible amount of responsibility that the author never shied away from. Oh even included a few monologues detailing how difficult the life of an idol really is and effectively spent the entire novel advocating for the privacy of idols. Both the band and the fans were treating with the utmost respect that could only come from another K-Pop lover and fan. I also loved the little details that only K-Pop fans would get, like how difficult it is to get a ticket to shows and how difficult it is to stop thinking about a particularly beautiful and well themed MV.

The Romance: This was the focal point of this story and was very well executed. Though I’m not always a huge fan of the clueless meeting with an unknown celebrity, this book actually sold me on the concept. Especially because Jenny eventually became such a big fan of the group. I loved all their little hidden moments where he’d grab her wrist and pull her behind something so they could talk or just spend a couple of unseen moments together. I loved how it wasn’t portrayed as being easy as well. I find that a lot of these more difficult romances are brushed off because of how happy they’re supposed to make the main characters. But relationships like this, though worth it, can’t be easy. Making sure to show the characters going through these difficulties in some form was important and made the relationship feel more earned in the end. The book was also very swoon-worthy and the chemistry was bursting between these characters in every scene!

The Bad:

Unfinished: Though I loved that this was written in a K-Drama style for the most part, there was one element of it that gave me pause. And it’s actually addressed at the very beginning of the book! In a lot of older K-Dramas specifically, there was a tendency to end them without much of a wrap up of all of the plot lines. This doesn’t happen so much with more recent K-Dramas that I’ve seen, but it happens in a lot of the older ones that I’ve watched. At the very beginning of this book, there are a few Korean women watching a K-Drama that ends pretty suddenly and one of the women throws her slipper at the screen in response. That’s how I felt ending this book. There were so many loose threads that I didn’t feel were answered in the end! It was probably my only issue with the entirety of the book! I’m not the only fan of this book who thinks this way apparently, because with one Google search I found several fans asking the author if there would be a sequel to wrap up these loose threads. All of the below categories will be about the unfinished feel to those specific plot lines.

Sun: He’s the fourth member of XOXO and we barely got him in the book! We hear the other three characters praise him on multiple occasions, but we don’t really get to see much of that greatness ourselves. He was such a mysterious figure for so much of the book, especially as the group’s leader, that I found myself a bit disappointed with how little we ended up getting of him at the end of the story.

Sori and Nathanial: It was clear throughout the book that these two were still in love with each other to some degree. We never got a full answer as to whether or not they were interested in getting back together and I think that’s something they both deserve.

South Korea: Jenny tells her Mom towards the end of the book that she’s not even sure she wants to move back to the States. All of her friends, her boyfriend, and her newfound love of life are all in South Korea, which she’s still not in at the end of the book. In fact, she gets into her top choice of school in New York. Couldn’t she find a job in Seoul or a good music school there? Her Mom also said that she wanted to talk to her when she got back. Was that about possibly moving back to South Korea? I have so many questions!

I loved this book so much that it’s inspired me to buy even more K-Pop and K-Drama based books; so look out for more similar reviews in the future! I’m personally very excited to dive more into this genre of books and hopefully I’ll also find a brand new K-Drama to watch soon! This book made me want to watch a bunch of those too. But seriously, check this book out if you haven’t! It’s one of my favorite books that I’ve read in a while and I can’t get enough of this genre! There’s also several references to BTS and to ‘Blood, Sweat, and Tears’ in this book which made my respect for it skyrocket even more. This book is happiness wrapped in beautiful book art. How could anyone resist?

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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