It’s time for the literary world to take fanfiction seriously. Well into the internet age, contemporary literature is profoundly shaped by online aesthetics and sensibilities, but for some reason fanfiction remains outcast. Esther Yi’s debut novel gives fanfiction, and stan culture more broadly, the piercing, unhinged analytic treatment it deserves. Beginning with an unnamed Korean narrator living in Berlin who is lured into an intense K-pop fandom, Y/N takes readers on a surreal, self-reflexive adventure that blurs and ultimately dissolves the borders between reality and fiction, self and other, and admiration and fetishization.
Though the unnamed narrator is the catalyst for the novel, both she and Yi make it clear from the start that this book is not really about her; it is about the limits of fandom. The novel opens with her first exposure to Moon, the youngest member of a Korean boy band that captivates international audiences in sold-out arenas. From her nosebleed seat, the narrator falls instantly for Moon, except it is not love she falls into but rather something like delusion. Soon after, our narrator starts writing fanfiction in which the protagonist is called Y/N (fanfic lingo for “your name,” which allows readers to insert themselves into the story). But soon Y/N takes over the narrative, traveling to Korea to meet Moon and destroying any semblance of selfhood that the narrator had.
Yi speaks to some of the most pressing ideas in today’s culture with wit and grace. Y/N illustrates how serious fandoms can be, how their influence reaches beyond bedroom wall posters to shape politics and identity. When Moon livestreams and calls his fans “liver,” insinuating both “lover” and the idea that his fans are somehow a part of his body, we see how a fandom forms a collective, though with a strict hierarchy. Parasocial relationship is an apt term, but in this case, it’s not necessarily the other that is the object of one-sided connection, but rather a fictionalized version of the self. With this in mind, Yi explores how gender discrimination and racism (particularly fetishization) can be the outcome of such constructed realities, as characters repeat Korean stereotypes and parrot a culture they have no real link to.
Considering all of this, it is clear that Y/N is one of the most daring novels of the year. Yi has set a new standard for internet-influenced literature by showing that online and literary narratives exist hand in hand, creating the world with every word.