By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Axie Oh to the WNDB blog to discuss her YA XOXO, out July 13, 2021!
Jenny’s never had much time for boys, K-pop, or really anything besides her dream of being a professional cellist. But when she finds herself falling for a K-pop idol, she has to decide whether their love is worth the risk. A modern forbidden romance wrapped in the glamorous and exclusive world of K-pop, XOXOis perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Maurene Goo.
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.
K-pop has been a huge part of Korea especially in Seoul, one of the most popular boy bands known as BTS had a lot of their members originate from Seoul or Busan. Why do you think some of the world’s most famous K-pop stars originated from these places?
Seoul is the capital of South Korea because it is such a populous area it may be why K-pop stars originated from Seoul. Even though a lot of people say that K-pop stars originated from Seoul, that is not always true, some may have moved from other provinces to Seoul to train since all the big companies are there. Busan is the second-largest city in Korea making it another ideal place to live in.
I loved your book XOXO. Your story resonated a lot with Idol’s relationship. What was your inspiration behind writing this book or was it something else like a person, a story, or simply something that came to you, like an aha moment in your next book?
I think I took from a lot of K-pop stars. My band was Big Bang so a lot of my knowledge came from them. K-pop is so big here in the US, so watching their videos and learning about their lives really helped. In a few places, I put a few Easter eggs in the book related to BTS, generally, though I got inspiration from K-pop boy bands (since XOXO is a boy band) and that really helped me create my book.
As a writer, what were some of the challenges you faced at the start of making this book?
Some challenges were, I was worried about accuracy since I do not live in Korea, I understand it better than I speak it, the nervousness about getting all the information right was kind of nerve-racking. Also, the school system knowledge was from family and K-dramas making writing about Jenny’s schedule and school life more difficult to explain. My editor was a great help reminding me that this is fiction, so it does not have to be fully accurate but should be respectful of the culture, helping ease my tension. I also did my fair share of research but I needed to get over the anxiety of getting everything right.
What were a few aha moments that you had?
I wanted to write a contemporary, romantic comedy in Seoul. I love Seoul since it is so beautiful and my family is there. More than making a book about K-pop, I wanted to make a book set in Seoul. I also wanted a character who was Korean American, making me feel connected to the character. Since I am also Korean American, I wanted my character to be born in America and travel to Korea like myself. I also attended Youngsan University for a month and I wanted to relive that in a book, making Jenny studying in Seoul perfect. Lastly, I just love K-pop so I was like “why not” which is why I made the love interest a K-pop star. This entire book was less an epiphany moment and more a collection of my thoughts in a book.
Your books had a very romantic plotline, from when Jenny met Jaewoo their lives changed drastically. They gave each other a spark and as the book goes on, they slowly started to fall in love. How were you as a writer able to capture this romance and draw people in to make it feel like they were there every step of the way watching the ups and downs of Jenny and Jaewoo’s relationship?
Part of the reason for writing a rom-com was not only for the comedic and fun parts, but also it is a romance making me want to include swoony moments and heart-racing moments. I was able to write this book off of my knowledge from rom-com movies and books, as I am quite a fan of this genre. It was basically all the K-dramas I read and watched in my book. I wanted to include Iconic scenes from K-dramas in my book to help my audience that has watched or read K-dramas identify these scenes.
Jaewoo would go to any length to protect those he cared about whether it was his bandmates, his family, or his partner in life. This can be overwhelming sometimes, having that mindset that you must protect everyone everywhere, but having relationships like this can also mean knowing that Jaewoo will have a support system as well. What do you think is the right balance of having close relationships with people but not getting stressed out with a mindset that you have to always protect them?
This is definitely one of his strong points, knowing he is a caretaker, but it is also his weak point since it hinders him from maybe doing what his heart desires because he is worried about taking care of his band and family knowing that he has a sibling and comes from a single-parent family. I think that Jenny realizes Jaewoo already has so many responsibilities but she doesn’t have to be one of them, she is strong on her own. This makes her perfect for Jaewoo knowing that he already worries constantly about everyone, but he doesn’t need to worry about her (even though he will since it’s his personality) but Jenny does not need it; she is responsible for herself. With this personality she can also be strong for Jaewoo at times,
I think that Jaewoo needs to know that his bandmates are also here from him, he has Sun (his hyung or older brother), Nathaniel (his “brother”), and Youngimin (the maknae or the youngest), he needs to realize he doesn’t have to always take care of everyone. This really appeals to me about K-pop groups in general, that sort of camaraderie in the band. In conclusion, I think Jaewoo needs to learn he is not responsible for everyone’s welfare and I hope he learns it in the book.
What is the main message that you are trying to convey to your audience? I thought the moral was love is worth it, knowing that one of the main questions in your book is, “Is love worth the risk”? I think it is since you showed that through the development of your characters, that your career should not restrict you from happiness.
I think there are a lot of morals, yours was one. I think another one is seeing all different types of views knowing that she doesn’t understand her roommate Sori since being an idol is her dream, but Jenny doesn’t understand why Sori has to sacrifice all these things to pursue her dream. An example of this is having a relationship with someone. Sori believes she can’t be in a relationship since her dream is to be a K-pop star and if I am in a relationship my fans will be mad, but Jenny did not understand.
So I think that a theme was seeing things from different perspectives since the girls needed to learn from each other and understand where the other is coming from, knowing that one way isn’t the only way I think all the characters learn from each other in that way. Another thing Jenny needs to learn about is her mom, since she misunderstands her for most of the book, learning about her mom’s relationship with her grandmother making her understand all the sacrifices her mom made for her. I think in general there are a lot of themes. Nothing was a solid theme, just going for your dreams, following your dreams, and making friends along the way.
Jenny and Jaewoo’s relationship drew me to the book time and time again, I could never get bored of the plotline. What are books that you could read repeatedly while not getting bored?
Wow! There are so many. My favorite book of all time is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I love this book since it has a lot of themes in it. The book makes me feel very happy (even though it is kind of sad), it is so beautiful and every little scene resonates with me in a way. The Little Prince is actually very popular in Korea, that is just a fun fact!
I also recently read the Forest of Souls and Girls by Lori M. Lee, the historical YA novel set in Jeju island which is set in Korea (Jeju Island is kind of like the Hawaii of Korea). I love that book. It is a beautiful island book. I also read K-pop Confidential, which I love, about a girl who becomes a K-pop star. This is different from my book since it is from an outsider’s perspective.
Other than Korean folktale and Fantasy romance stories, what is another genre you hope to write in or enjoy reading?
I love the historical genre. I also like writing for a middle-grade audience as opposed to genre. I have a lot of fun reading and writing middle grade. So maybe historical YA and middle grade. But for right now I am interested in middle grade.
How do the characters in this book relate to you?
Jenny relates to me in a sense that she is very easygoing from my perspective; she is very passionate about her cello playing but she is very easygoing when people tell her something she just goes with it. She isn’t very resistant like when she goes to Korea she absorbs everything and is very excited, but she is also very confident which I don’t identify myself as (though others do). She is very good at standing up for herself and her friends, which was one of the traits I like writing about her since I’m not like that so I like writing about go-getters and ambition. I love writing but I try and stop, but I relate to her in the way I am very easygoing. She has aspects of me but she isn’t me which is normal when writing. Also because Jaewoo is a K-pop star and I knew K-pop fans would be reading this I didn’t want a character who doubts her life after dating a K-pop star.
What books are you looking forward to coming out, especially by people of color?
A book that just came out called Made in Korea is one I have been anticipating about a girl who is selling Korean skincare products competing with a boy by Sarah Suk. In the summer there is a book that I wrote a blurb for a book called The Wild Ones by Nafiza Azad.
It is a magical girl type genre where girls go around the world and save other girls, it is very beutiful. Next year I am very excited to read the Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman which is a very beautiful Indian fantasy with four siblings who save their country because it is on the brink of war and they are losing magic. It is kind of like Gilded Wolves. Once Upon a K-prom by Kat Cho is also a good one about a teen whose childhood friend leaves and comes back during high school, and he is now a K-pop star!
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about XOXO or other books of yours that are coming out?
XOXO is coming out on July 13. I am very excited. Fairy Loot is also doing a charity edition, where the book is in blue (the original color is yellow). I also have my book called The Girl Who Falls Beneath the Sea coming out next year which is very exciting. I am very excited for both these books coming out. I also have my series Rebel Seoul which is already out.
Axie Oh is a first-generation Korean American born in NYC and raised in New Jersey. She studied Korean history and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of California San Diego and holds an MFA in writing for young people from Lesley University. Her passions include K-pop, anime, stationery supplies, and milk tea. She currently resides in Las Vegas, NV, with her puppy, Toro. Visit her online at www.axieoh.com.
Suniti Srinivasan is a blog volunteer for We Need Diverse Books, and a middle schooler in International Community School. She is very passionate about law and International Studies. When she is not doing schoolwork, she expresses herself through classical dance and finds it to be a great stress reliever. She is an animal enthusiast and has a golden retriever who keeps her busy. She has been an avid reader from a very young age, absorbing the tales of strong character in fantasy lands and in society. She hopes to share her joy of reading with the world and help highlight more diverse authors through this platform.