By: Alanda Jackson


Former Cream City Review contributor Christine Ma-Kellams’ latest novel, The Band, is a satirical page-turner that explores K-Pop, cancel culture, and fandoms.

In this novel, we meet Duri, one of five members of The Band, everyone’s latest K-pop obsession and rising boy band. After Duri releases his latest solo single, he finds himself at the head of a controversy that leaves him being canceled by the overzealous fans. On the run with nowhere to go, he meets a psychologist, a married Chinese American woman with two children at a Los Angeles H-Mart. Against her better judgment, the nameless psychologist decides to take Duri into her home and offer him shelter from the brewing storm.

Safe from the public eye, Duri begins his exile and contemplates his relationship with The Band and what it means for him. With the help of the psychologist, Duri dives deeper into his mind and works through the deteriorating state of his mental health that threatens to overcome him. Through his journey of self-help, Duri and the psychologist find themselves getting closer, as a bond begins to grow just as one is threatened to break apart.

Meanwhile, the past comes back to haunt the music producer of The Band. In the wake of spiraling events, he recalls what happened to the original girl group, predecessor of The Band, and the tragic fate that befell them. As long-buried memories resurface, a ghost from the past threatens The Band and the music industry forever.

In The Band, Ma-Kellams examines the world of superstardom and the pressures of the entire world watching your rise to fame. From obsessive fans to cancel culture, she takes these elements and uses them to explore mental health and the effects it has on the minds of her characters. I found myself becoming entranced with the mental state of her characters, and in turn, mental health itself. I wanted to know more about what was going on in their minds and how their environments shaped them into the kinds of people that they are.

Like most mental health struggles, it takes a lot of courage and strength to acknowledge that something is wrong, let alone ask for help. The relationship between Duri and the psychologist emulates this very well, so much so, that we get to learn things about Duri that he otherwise would not have admitted himself. As for the character of the psychologist, Ma-Kellams utilizes her background in cultural psychology and gives agency to one of her most important characters. It’s through the viewpoint of the psychologist that we get to see Duri’s transformation firsthand and understand just how complex he is as a character.

The world that Ma-Kellams has created in The Band is filled with complexities that surround mental health and the inner struggles that accompany it. It may feel like a never-ending battle that you have to fight alone. In the words of the psychologist from Ma-Kellams novel:

“Spend enough time around people with classified mood disorders and you realize that what the suicidal person really wants is not to die per se—it takes effort to die these days, at least in the first world, where we generally lack lions and tigers and bears and random aerial drone attacks and cartel assassinations and civil wars—but rather, just to cease to be for however long or short of a period of time it takes for them to get some relief from the compulsively addictive thinking going on inside their own head” (Ma-Kellams 86).

If there is anything to take away from this story, it’s that mental health looks different for everyone, and you may never know what someone struggles with. It’s important to be there for people when they are at their lowest because you may just be the lifeline that they need. A credit to Ma-Kellams, who employs humor to talk about mental health in a sensitive but effective way, raising awareness towards a lived experience, and making her characters all the more attuned with reality.


Christine Ma-Kellams
When she isn’t writing short stories or novels, Christine Ma-Kellams is a social-cultural psychologist and college professor at San Jose State University. Her other writings can be found in HuffPost, Salon, Wall Street Journal, Psychology Today, Electric Literature, ZYZZYVA, Kenyon Review, the Rumpus, and elsewhere. Since its publication, The Band has appeared in and been recommended by the New York Times, People Magazine, and Public Radio.

Christine Ma-Kellams’ The Band is out now and available for purchase here.

Alanda Jackson
Alanda Jackson is an undergraduate student at UW-Milwaukee majoring in English with a focus on rhetoric and professional writing. Wanting to hone her craft, Alanda is learning how to write across all forms of literary mediums in the hopes of pursing her dream of becoming a writer.