I have a confession to make. I judged this book by its cover. I almost didn’t buy The Epic Crush of Genie Lo because it looked like a combination of bad military SF from the color scheme and bad YA romance from the title.
I was wrong. Forgive me, Mrs. Sharrow—you were a good kindergarten teacher. I was apparently just a bad student. Don’t be like me! Pick up this book immediately! (Also, shout out to Angela at the Red Balloon in Minneapolis for setting me straight. Support your local independent bookstore!)
Genie Lo is a great book and Genie Lo is a great character. F. C. Yee writes with immense humor and surprising heart, given that this is a lighter book. I genuinely was able to sympathize and identify with Genie’s struggles–well, the ones related to schoolwork and getting away from home and into a good college. The demon-hunting, less so. Genie is forced to join the world’s weirdest extracurricular because someone in Heaven screwed up, and the worst part is that she can’t even put it in her personal essay. Who’s going to believe she has perfect true sight and is training to take on a flesh-eating soul-devouring horde? Not Harvard. Not her mom. Probably not even her best friend.
Only Sun Wukong gets it, but Sun Wukong is an irritating prat who claims he knew her in a past life. Lame pickup line, but unfortunate truth. He also claims he’s the great and wonderful Monkey King.
The legend of the Monkey King (usually called Journey to the West) is maybe best compared to the Western King Arthur stories: there’s a general trajectory, some standard characters, and then some flexibility with the details. And just like here, where every major fantasy author seems to at least dip their toes in with a short Arthurian story, China and East Asia are replete with Monkey King retellings and interpretations. But for anyone not familiar, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo lays out the basics. Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, is an immortal being whose power is nearly limitless. He can make as many copies of himself as there are hairs on his body, and he wields the mighty pillar of heaven as a staff. Part trickster, part folk hero, he makes an even more appealing character when he tries to disguise himself as a teenage boy. There’s something appropriate about a high school setting, since the pranks and drama make sense but the stakes can still be humorous.
Genie is a reincarnation…but not of who you might think. It’s a very clever gottcha moment for anyone who knows Journey to the West, but still perfectly fun for anyone new to the story. The entire book is full of moments that play on expectations from Asian and American culture, and on YA tropes, but with great fondness. Yee is a nimble writer who seems to be having a great deal of fun, which makes this so much fun to read.