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XOXO – Cellist Meets K-pop Idol

XOXO by Axie Oh held by African American young woman

XOXO is a young adult romantic comedy by Korean American Axie Oh.

Cellist Prodigy Jenny Needs to Find Her Spark

Jenny, a high school cello prodigy aiming for a career as a classical concert cellist, is having a bad day. Although she won a music competition last weekend, she is unhappy with the judges’ comments. She carries them around in her pocket:

“While Jenny is a talented cellist, proficient in all the technical elements of music, she lacks the spark that would take her from perfectly trained to extraordinary.”

Her Uncle Jay advises her to

“stop caring so much about [her] future, about getting into music school, about what’ll come after, and . . . live a little.”

Jenny Challenges a Cute Boy to a Karaoke Battle

When Jenny meets a cute boy in her uncle’s karaoke bar in LA, she takes her uncle’s advice to heart. To expand her horizons, challenges the boy to a karaoke battle – and beats him.

On the bus home, she bumps into him again, and they end up spending a memorable evening together at a Korean festival. What Jenny doesn’t realize that night is that this cute boy, Jaewoo, is a famous K-pop idol.

Jenny Moves to Seoul

When Jenny temporarily moves to Seoul with her mother and enrolls in a music school for a few months, she meets Jaewoo again.

Idols are not allowed to date, and Jenny must be single-minded about her auditions to get into music school. But spending time with Jaewoo and her new friends is helping her artistry as a cellist.

Will she have to give up a relationship with Jaewoo so that both of them can find success in their musical careers? Read to find out what she chooses. (I don’t want to give any spoilers.) What would you decide?

Why I Enjoyed This Book

Having been introduced to K-pop during my Taekwondo classes, having loved the cello for decades, and enjoying some YA novels, I was happy when I saw an ad for XOXO.

However, the book begins when Jenny is upset – thinking judges found her playing that of a “soulless robot.” Even though the author is a first-generation Korean American, I was concerned that it might be caught up in negative stereotypes often faced by Asian and Asian American musicians. Thankfully, as I read more of the book, I was glad to see that this was not the case at all.

Like many cellists, Jenny struggled to put emotions into her music. I found myself sympathizing with Jenny. Although I was never technically perfect like Jenny, I had a similar problem as a teenager. However, in my case, rather than not finding a spark, my shyness made me afraid of showing my emotions through my playing.

I also enjoyed and could relate to the humor that Jenny was so unaware of popular culture that she didn’t recognize Jaewoo as a pop star when they first met. Again, as a teenager, I was encouraged to listen exclusively to classical and folk music, and I never knew what my peers were talking about when they discussed bands and pop stars of the time. My classmates often teased me about being so unaware of popular culture.

I laughed when reading about Jenny’s similar situation:

“Unlike some of the kids at my school, I never could get into K-pop, or any pop, really. A playlist of my life would include Bach, Haydn, and Yo-Yo Ma.”

So even though I am very far removed in age from the main characters in the book, I could relate to some of their struggles and fears. It brought back memories of my own high school experiences and made me think of my teenage students today.

Even though I don’t often read books in this genre, I enjoyed it. Most of all, I was interested in following the school days of a young cellist. There was humor, and I kept finding myself thinking the book would make a funny movie or miniseries.

In addition, I’ve never been to Korea, so it was a pleasure to read about Jenny’s time in Korea. Seoul is new to her as a Korean American, as is the South Korean countryside.

One part of the book I particularly enjoyed was when Jenny and her classmates go on a school field trip during cherry blossom season. They camp at a national park that features a nature reserve and historical sites. The descriptions of Jenny’s first experiences in the Korean countryside made me want to travel there myself.

Recommendation and Book Information

I recommend this book for teen cellists and tween, teen, and adult fans of K-pop and K-dramas. Anyone concerned about the adult content in the book can rest easy as the book is classified as a “Clean and Wholesome Romance for Teens.” It would make an excellent gift for a young reader who loves the cello and K-pop.

  • Title: XOXO
  • Author: Axie Oh
  • ISBN-10: 0063024993
  • ISBN-13: 978-0063024991
  • Paperback: 337 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen (13 July 2021)
  • Language: English

Your Turn

What’s your favorite work of cello fiction? Let us know in the comments.

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