The Band By Christine Ma-Kellams: Review/Giveaway/Guest Post

May 11, 2024 | 2024 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Music, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Cynthia Chow

The week we have something a bit different and a lot of fun–a review and giveaway of a debut mystery by Christine Ma-Kellams called The Band–the book involves KPop and we also have a fun guest post by Christine about that connection. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book and a link to purchase the book from Amazon.

The Band by Christine Ma-Kellams
Review by Cynthia Chow

The Band begins with a breezy narration full of footnotes covering the rise – and fall? – of a female Korean pop band attempting to forge their success in the States. They hope that connecting with another Korean idol who has found popularity in America will give them a boost up, but ominous hints would indicate that it’s about to go wrong. Our narrator then takes us to the producer’s follow-up Korean boy band unimaginatively named The Band, but whose popularity has become so phenomenal that it’s the only name they need. Sang Duri was one of the five members known as the Pretty One until his very personal song lyrics had his country and his fanbase turn on him and essentially make him “cancelled.” His disappearance from public events is a mystery not just to his fanbase but to his fellow bandmates, for whom mental health is an issue but not something to be discussed.

Here the narration turns to an H-Mart in Los Angeles, where Duri runs into a somewhat dissatisfied Chinese-American psychologist. Through somewhat muddled advice over proper Asian cooking from his phone’s interpreter app, Duri somehow convinces her to allow him into her home to cook Tteokbokki. Her two young sons Kilim and Sam rather complacently accept Duri into their home, while her husband Luc is confused but genially accepts the young man into their home. While the psychologist – only once in passing referred to as being named Mae- attempts to help Duri adjust to life outside of being just Pretty Boy and forge the next step in his future, she also confronts how other’s perception over her Asian American identity has affected her life. From questionable racially appropriated Halloween costumes to her choice of college majors, being Chinese American has influenced her more than she would like to admit. While these two are living in their suburban bubble The Band and their manager dodge questions from the press and must decide if the time is right to move on without their fifth member or continue along as The Smart One, the English-speaking Leader, the Dancer with Dimples, and the Dancer with Sings Like an Angel. The mystery of the female K-Pop band lingers in the background, with events culminating in an explosive concert performance.

You would almost have to live under a rock to be unaware of the K-Pop and Korean Drama phenomenon. It would also be difficult to have ignored the prevalence of suicides among Korean influencers, actors, and musicians, all of whom are idolized for their perfection and feel the pressure to unrealistically live up to it. Fanbases can be powerful, toxic, and prone to pivot at the first hint of a perceived betrayal, so they are often feared as much by their idols as by any perceived rivals. This makes it fascinating to delve into this world through the eyes of the Chinese-American psychologist and Duri, who is having difficulty adjusting to a life full of choices. As restrictive as his boyband life was, having every hotel stay, meal choice, and fashion wear decided for him was comforting. Both Duri and Mae are unhappy and dissatisfied, but throughout the novel they find connections and help the other to at least move out of being stagnant and find a happier path.

Footnotes add much humor to the novel, layering on biting commentary along with information that is not required but definitely helpful. The pressure to be perfect, through plastic surgery, constant workouts, and filtered Instagrams, weigh upon all of the Band. The immigration experience, whether first, second, or third also is examined as being the more acceptable “model” immigrant has its own burdens along with the irony of then often turning on other, later immigrants. This is a very fun read for fans of the K-Pop phenomenon or anyone feeling too comfortable and stagnant in their life.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Kpop and Books: An Unlikely Love Affair
by Christine Ma-Kellams

Back in June 2022, a mere three days before my birthday, I thought my world almost ended. I had sold my debut novel about an international K-pop sensation’s clashes with anti-fans mere weeks prior, but halfway through my favorite month of the year, I discovered that the inspiration for my book—arguably the most famous boy band in the world, BTS—was about to disappear. The technical term they used was “indefinite hiatus” but already the internet threatened to break down with the news: stories about Korean pop in crisis; the price of shares of their production company HYBE dropped perilously. Before the South Korean economy could tank too much or a sizable portion of the global population could lose their minds, the group clarified that, in fact, they’re going to return.

Christine Ma-Kellams

Now we’re finally nearing the end of K-pop sensation BTS’ two-year-long hiatus due to their enlistment in the South Korean military. I’m not sure how their legion of fans–44 million fans on Twitter, 60 million on Instagram, and 47 million on Tiktok, plus the unnamed number with a technological or age-related aversion to social media—managed to get through their absence and what kind of BTS-adjacent content is holding them over until the boys’ widely anticipated return in 2025—although to the members’ credit, they’ve released a steady and highly impressive stream of solo projects. But apart from these, there has been one more unexpected lifesaver: books.

This, of course, is no accident. Namjoon, or RM—the group’s lead and bibliophile—has an extensive list of books he has recommended over the years, so much so that there are entire social media accounts dedicated to his library (case in point: the Twitter/X account aptly titled Namjoon’s Library). Also splattered across the social media universe are book clubs dedicated to the boys, the most notable of which is BTS Book Club, which commands not only a sizable Twitter/X following, but also has an active Discord channel where members discuss everything from Manga to book club questions.

Then there is Bangtan Scholars, an interdisciplinary group of academics who literally study BTS for a living. Collectively, they have a wide array of journal articles, books, videos, and presentations on everything you could possibly want to know about these boys and their effects on humanity.

My personal favorite is BTS-inspired new fiction. Back when I was initially querying my own manuscript, a literary agent mentioned Esther Yi’s Y/N—the only other adult novel dedicated to K-pop (to my knowledge; there is, however, a sizable camp of YA books with K-pop themes). In its absurdist tale of obsession, a Korean-German woman from Berlin goes to Seoul in search of a K-pop idol named “Moon.” Of course, there is my own debut novel, The Band, which takes a decidedly more humor-centric and thriller-esque approach by centering around a canceled K-pop boy bander whose escape to the McMansion of an Asian American therapist proves to introduce more problems than solutions.

Once upon a time—more than a half century ago—four boys from Liverpool named Paul, Ringo, John and George became so popular, they inspired a spat of books using their songs as titles (see: So I suppose it should come as no surprise that the most brilliant global musical sensations of today have done the same. After all, novels, like albums, offer to both break and expand our vision of the world by making us feel less alone and more understood, one unforgettable line at a time.

You can click here to purchase this book.

To enter to win a copy of The Band, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “the band” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 18, 2024. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify.

Christine Ma-Kellams is a cultural psychologist whose writing has appeared in Salon, HuffPost, the Wall Street Journal, Psychology Today, Chicago Tribune, Prairie Schooner, the Kenyon Review, ZYZZYVA, the Rumpus, Catapult, Saturday Evening Post, and elsewhere. Her empirical studies on culture and relationships have also been widely covered in GQ (Australia), Esquire (Middle East), Boston Globe, Vice News, Elle Magazine (UK), Yahoo News, MSN News, Fox News, New York Post, and Daily Mail. Her debut novel, The Band, has been recommended by The New York Times and People Magazine, as well as featured as one of the most anticipated books of 2024 by Public Radio (WBUR), Debutiful, the Hasty Booklist, and Shelf Awareness.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Not my usual fare, but count me in!

  2. We have a winner!


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