You may scoff, but I attribute the day that I watched my first K-pop video as one of the most influential days in my short life.
In May 2020, the Minnesota lakes were heating up amidst a raging pandemic. I returned home in March as everything shut down, desperate for stability while people fell sick and the world as we knew it crumbled. One day, my sister blasted “Friends” by BTS over the speakers of my mom’s Ford Escape while she explained the meaning behind the song.
When we got home, we moved on with our day. As I lay in bed that night though, I typed BTS into the Youtube search bar and clicked on the first video I saw. Five hours later, I could name every single member’s hometown, voice range, and celebrity crush. I was hooked.
Esther Yi’s debut novel Y/N takes the idea of fan culture to another level. The novel begins with a nameless narrator, a Korean-American twenty-something living a monotone life in Berlin. One day, she attends the concert of the K-pop group, Pack of Boys, with her dedicated-fan roommate. Almost instantaneously, our narrator falls headfirst into a literary whirlwind of obsession with one of the singers, Moon. Subsequently, readers are privy to the swift unraveling of our narrator’s personal life as she devotes her entire existence to Moon, mesmerized by his ethereal dance moves and unattainable persona.
Fueled by a discovered purpose, Y/N’s narrator and protagonist begins writing Y/N fan-fiction (Y/N standing for “your name”), from which the novel derives its title. Traditionally, fanfiction pieces are fictional accounts centered around favorite characters and celebrities, written by fans and posted to the internet. Y/N fanfic specifically allows readers to insert themselves within the stories, creating a momentary sense of intimacy with their subject. Though often purely imaginary works to connect writers with their favorite followings, this type of story can become something dangerous depending on the writer and their intentions. From controversial and objectionable topics to blatantly offensive tropes, many fics place an unassuming character and often real-life person in a false and possibly defamatory storyline. The narrator’s work is not necessarily dangerous in this sense, yet her work still twists the life and being of a real person. Furthermore, her fiction pushes her deeper into an intrusive and uncomfortable delusion of personal connection with her subject.
At the height of her obsession, the protagonist also meets other fans who match her dedication, as well as some who harbor far more intrusive motives. Here, she finds a sense of security and intimacy that she had been searching for in her relationships prior to her self-described awakening. The group’s fanbase is soon rocked by Moon’s sudden retirement, sending Y/N’s narrator into a spiral of purposelessness, compulsion, and a conviction to find the young idol.
Yi’s main character travels from Berlin, Germany to Seoul, South Korea in search of Moon. Her journey takes her to corners of society that are often ostracized, into a friendship that changes her understanding of human connection, and into the orbit of an idol who proves to be everything but what she expected him to be.
Oscillating between the story’s present narrative and the narrator’s written fanfiction, Y/N is chalked full of absurdity. Yi’s voice is highly intellectual and sophisticated, highlighting the contrast between the narrator’s worldliness and her overwhelming, surreal obsession with a person she’s never even met. The absence of a named narrator and protagonist paired with the first-person narrative also follows the structure of fanfiction. Thus, we as readers have eagerly consumed the very media which symbolizes Y/N’s delusion.
Y/N does lose traction in the middle of the piece as the protagonist begins her mission in Seoul, but picks up with the introduction of characters such as the Music Professor, Maehwa, and the other members of Pack of Boys. Each figure slowly tears apart her preconceived notions of Moon until she is forced to realize that her muse is just as fictional as the story she has written. Spiritually abandoned and lost, readers begin to understand what lies behind the narrator’s obsession—a desire to be unique, to love and be loved in return, to be seen wholly, and to belong to something greater. Direct in its criticism of fan-culture entitlement and philosophical in its exploration of private personas, Y/N also sheds light on a real and shared human experience. The narrator’s methods may be invasive and unethical at times, but readers can empathize with the idea that we’re all searching for a place to land—a source of stability and community. In Y/N’s own words, “What I wanted was someone or something to follow.”
by Esther Yi
Published on March 21, 2023
Angie Raney is a recent graduate of DePaul University where she studied creative writing, anthropology, and Spanish. Her poetry and creative nonfiction has been published in publications such as Crook and Folly, Silver Birch Press, Fleas on the Dog and more. Currently, she work as the Fundraising and Events Assistant for StoryStudio Chicago.