As the celestial enforcer for the realm of California, Genie already has her work cut out for her. She’s managing the yaoguai who invaded in the last book, she’s navigating her new relationship, she’s kicking ass in school and extracurriculars, and she’s getting ready to apply to college. She does not have time for interdimensional hijinks. So when a vast encroachment of evil chi is detected, she hopes that–for once!–someone else can handle it. Someone more experienced, or at least more qualified.
Except there’s one problem. The Jade Emperor is nowhere to be found.
Yes, the supreme leader of all Heaven is MIA, and so his celestial assessor is forced to issue a mandate challenge. Whoever defeats the unknown evil will be the new Jade Emperor. Which sounds like the worst idea ever to a girl who didn’t even want the responsibility of being captain of her volleyball team, but Genie can’t sit idly by when there’s a fight brewing. Or when her friends–and foes–decide to compete for the title. But is her help–the kind that often comes with shouting and punching–really what anyone needs?
The Iron Will of Genie Lo is even better than the first book, and the first book was awesome. There’s plenty of action, some of the most delightful humor, and a lot of serious topics handled with intelligence and grace. I was amazed at how much F. C. Yee was able to cram into a single book. There’s deep emotional development not just in Genie’s romantic relationship, but also in her relationships with both her parents. The Lo’s are typical Chinese parents in that they won’t talk about their feelings, making Genie guess at their thoughts, expectations, and needs. She’s understandably frustrated by it as she tries to navigate what feels like her entire future, a future that will definitely impact her whole family. But it’s never in doubt how much they love each other, which I’m glad about; rather, Yee poignantly describes how hard it is to navigate two cultures with very different modes of emotional expression.
As a result, Genie just doesn’t know how to communicate with Quentin, aka Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. They may be spiritually bonded by their good works and previous lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean they automatically understand each other in this new 21st century. If anything, their connection makes it harder: Genie used to be Quentin’s weapon. Now she’s a person. They both have to come to grips with that, but as a former weapon, Genie really just wants to smack heads until the problem goes away. Fun, but not long-term healthy.
That being said, I love how boundlessly angry and eager to punch things Genie is. She’s so fierce, and while Yee doesn’t protect her from the consequences of being hot-headed, he also doesn’t punish her for being strong, outspoken, and determined. She doesn’t have to become soft or quiet; she just has to learn how to best direct her energies. Once she learns to communicate with Quentin, they’re even more unstoppable.
Not that Yee is criticizing softness, though. Guanyin—literally the Bodhisattva of Compassion—is the open hand to Genie’s closed fist, and she and Genie, too, have to learn how to communicate. Their differences can make them stronger and closer as long as they both are open and honest with themselves and each other.
In the end, Genie’s stubbornness and fury repair the universe and they make space for another Asian woman to do her thing, too. Women supporting women! It’s a beautiful sight to behold. Yee has really created a distinctive character I’d be overjoyed to read about for years and years to come, and he’s made old characters like the Monkey King and Guanyin fresh for a new audience. I really can’t express how wonderful the Genie Lo books are and how much you should be reading them, so I’ll settle for being direct just like Genie: the Genie Lo books are wonderful, and you should absolutely be reading them.