Y/N: A Novel

Image of Y/N: A Novel
Release Date: 
March 21, 2023
Astra House
Reviewed by: 

“Some readers will find this a fascinating labyrinth while others will long for wider vistas and fresher air.”

All we know about the narrator of Y/N is that she's a young woman of Korean heritage, living in Berlin. She seems oddly disconnected from friends, family, work, any kind of community, sharing an apartment with "an online stranger." Her work is unsatisfying and equally isolating:

"I worked from home as an English copywriter for an Australian expat's business in canned artichoke hearts. My job required me to credibly infuse the vegetable with the ability to feel romantic love for its consumer. I'd always felt a kind of aristocratic apathy about the task, but in the days following the concert, I avoided my boss's calls altogether, nauseated by the prospect of speaking seriously about such unserious work."

The concert she refers to is the triggering event of the novel, a "pack of boys" who sing and dance to a large audience, maintaining fandom's fervor through social media "meetings." Loosely based on the Korean pop group, BTS, the "boys" incite fierce loyalty from their followers. The narrator is skeptically dismissive of their value until her roommate gives her an extra ticket to the concert and changes her entire life, throwing her deep into fanatical fandom crushing on one "boy" in particular, "Moon."

The whole culture of this kind of living through a pop idol is summed up by the narrator's boyfriend:

"'We once turned to philosophy for an interpretation of God, for that which lies beyond our comprehension, but philosophy has relinquished its authority to data. Now we know too much, especially what people want and how to give it to them. Religion is no longer a site of our interminable struggle with negativity. Religion, shorn of philosophy, is now a vending machine for manifestation and fulfillment. That's why there are so many lowercase gods in this secular, cynical era. Oblivious to the contradictions, we yearn for spiritual practices that will make us worthy of receiving permanent answers and solutions. A boy band like this . . . is one such god."

Something needs to fill the void of a life, to give it meaning. The narrator doesn't find it in writing copy about artichoke hearts, but instead, as her boyfriend predicts, in a boy band. She avidly follows Moon's every word and movement. He becomes her god, her reason for existence.

The obsession fills her every minute, and she starts to write about Moon, creating fan fiction where the main character is Y/N for Your Name, meaning each reader can imagine themselves on the journey to meet their beloved singer, Moon. The narrator decides that the reader who matters most to her is Moon. She must get her story in front of his eyes.

"For here, in this notebook, was our lost history. Here, in these scenes was the symbolic shadowplay of all that had already transpired between us. But the events to come after—they defied my imagination. What I did know was that in this unimaginable future, we would be together at last, away from the world, freed from its detrimental gravity . . . we would achieve what no fan and his star had ever achieved before: mutual universality, perfect love."

Through twists and turns, the meeting actually occurs when the narrator leaves Berlin to find her idol in Seoul. Moon reads Y/N as "why en," not understanding that it's a placeholder for fans to insert their own names. This way of reading it gives it an entirely different meaning to the narrator:

"He seemed to be asking 'why' of my existence, 'why I was what I was."

Really, it's the narrator who asks that question throughout the book. Why does she exist and what gives her life meaning? Meeting her idol is bound to leave her unfulfilled. The question is what can replace the god she's created in her head?

There's no easy answer, and the author doesn't give us a pat ending. After leading us through the surreal landscape of the narrator's inner and outer world, the only clear marker is the incessant drive of obsession, the need to find the right story to tell. Some readers will find this a fascinating labyrinth while others will long for wider vistas and fresher air.