In her hypnotic debut novel, Y/N, Esther Yi shrewdly manages both to expose and celebrate the effects of South Korean pop-culture domination, with brilliantly placed jabs at Korean transracial adoption, cosmetic surgery and the wellness industry.

Yi's narrator, an unnamed Korean American woman in Berlin, can't ignore the staggering popularity of a Korean boy band comprised of "performers of supernatural charisma whose concerts could leave a fan permanently destabilized, unable to return to the spiritual attenuation of her daily life." She has, however, managed to remain detached, even derisive, of such brainwashing, until she accompanies her roommate to a concert. Her inexplicable obsession is immediate, attaching herself to bandmember Moon. The quotidian falls away as she surrounds herself with fellow devotees. Beyond reality, writing fanfiction further feeds her frenzied devotion. She discovers the welcoming portal of "Y/N"--as in "your name": "Wherever Y/N appeared in the text, the reader could plug in their own name, thereby sharing events with the celebrity they had no chance of meeting in real life." This woman yearns to be the outlier: when Moon announces his sudden retirement, she flies to Seoul in search of her idol.

Yi is an inventive writer, eschewing labels, genres and, most certainly, expectations. Born of Korean heritage in Los Angeles, raised internationally and living in Leipzig, Germany, her wanderings seem to provide a wide perspective for observing the global phenomenon of fan-made "idols" to be worshipped by anyone anywhere. Yi's protagonist here may be specific--an American of Korean ancestry living in Europe--but she quickly becomes one of the masses, gravitating toward her elusive god. --Terry Hong, BookDragon

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