Genie Lo is one among droves of Ivy-hopeful overachievers in her sleepy Bay Area suburb. You know, the type who wins. When she’s not crushing it at volleyball or hitting the books, Genie is typically working on how to crack the elusive Harvard entry code.
But when her hometown comes under siege from hellspawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are dramatically rearranged. Enter Quentin Sun, a mysterious new kid in class who becomes Genie’s self-appointed guide to battling demons. While Genie knows Quentin only as an attractive transfer student with an oddly formal command of the English language, in another reality he is Sun Wukong, the mythological Monkey King incarnate—right down to the furry tale and penchant for peaches.
Suddenly, acing the SATs is the least of Genie’s worries. The fates of her friends, family, and the entire Bay Area all depend on her summoning an inner power that Quentin assures her is strong enough to level the very gates of Heaven. But every second Genie spends tapping into the secret of her true nature is a second in which the lives of her loved ones hang in the balance.
My Rating: ★★★★ – 4 stars
Welp. Nothing like having your personhood denied in the morning to start off the day right.
After attempting to start this review many different ways, and deleting every single one of them, I’m going to start this with the only way I seem to be capable of:
*claps very loudly*
I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. In fact, I expected to be kept vaguely interested throughout the story, but not really get involved in it.
But guess what happened?? My expectations did not become a reality, and I could not be happier! <– The one time I’ll ever say this.
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is fun, action-packed, and full of heart, from start to finish. It’s written in such a way that the voice comes across as “younger” – meaning that it reads like a middle-grade book, even though it’s YA. But it somehow adds to the book’s appeal, instead of detracting from it. Though I’d say what really makes this book shine is the main character herself, Genie Lo.
What? I actually like a main character? *gasps and shocked looks abound*
Really, I can’t express how much I came to adore her. Genie is a main character who is the very personification of the Chosen One trope. (Except she’s not, because that’s Harry Potter.) She’s also super overpowered (something I tend to dislike), but for me, she was extremely relatable. Even though there were demons running around, a Monkey King to deal with, and a new set of powers to master…she still found time to be insanely stressed about college.
HA. Mood. All the time.
Really though, you don’t see that a lot in fantasy novels set in our contemporary world. After their powers or the antagonist appear, you never see the main character give a second thought about their life before – they just focus on the craziness in front of them and get lost in it. Which is, under the circumstances surrounding them, understandable. But it makes the book feel less grounded in reality, harder to connect with any struggles the main character might face.
Because let’s face it, many of us can’t say we know what it’s like to fight a dragon, but all of us have a wealth of shared complaints about how stressful it is to apply to college, or, you know, just think about college.
“Got any suggestions on getting into a good college?” I asked.
“Yeah. Bribe the hell out of everyone you can.”
And, on a more personal level, I was able to connect with Genie regarding her heritage and her relationship with her parents. Genie is a Chinese-American, and I’m an Indian-American, so our experiences do have differences in that regard. But there’s also a similarity in many conversations she and other characters have, a general thread that feels extremely familiar to me.
“You’re Chinese and you don’t know me?” he sputtered. [“He” being a mythical Chinese figure.] “That’s like an American child not knowing Batman!”
“You’re Chinese Batman?”
You have NO IDEA how many variations of the above conversation I have heard. (Except instead of “Chinese”, it was “Indian.” And there was never anything about Batman involved.) It was always, “How are you Indian and not aware of this?” or “You’re Indian and you don’t know this?” It was the tiny things like this – the tiny, seemingly insignificant comments made about culture, family, etc. – that I really felt and commiserated with.
And I have NEVER read a book that so accurately depicted my family life before. Seeing it in ink was so startling and freeing – it was like getting an outsider’s view of my relationship with my parents – my mom specifically – and I still don’t know what to think. On one hand, it was something else I could commiserate with Genie over. But on the other hand…it was kind of freaky.
The other aspects of the story were wonderful as well, though I didn’t really feel as strongly for anything else as I did for Genie. I do like her friendship with Yunie – who is a certifiable cinnamon roll, by the way. (I will protect this girl at all costs.) Yunie was such a wonderful friend, even though Genie couldn’t really return the favor due to all the demons attacking her – you know, the usual.
I…don’t really know how I feel about Quentin.
On one hand, I didn’t hate their “budding love.” It was tolerable. I know a few reviewers have mentioned that Genie laments his hotness way too much, which is true, but I didn’t actually care? The reason why is because she never let that attraction take over her other priorities. She still focused on kicking ass at school, learning more about her powers, and killing all the demons in the Bay Area.
But there were some aspects of their relationship that I couldn’t help but squirm at. The way they first met and the first few events that followed after that involved Quentin being kind of stalkerish. It was addressed though, and Genie did not put up with it.
“That doesn’t matter,” I hissed. “You are not entitled to my thoughts, emotions, or any other part of my life unless I say so. What you get from me is jack and squat, regardless of whether or not you understand. Ming bai le ma, dickhead?”
And I somehow turned this back to Genie. Not like I’ve already written over 600 words about her. Nope, I have to write more apparently.
I personally felt very uncomfortable with their start – though I was also immensely proud of Genie for telling him off – but Quentin learned his lesson (because even godly Monkey Kings have to respect boundaries, no exceptions) and Genie apparently forgave him (I don’t think it was explicit forgiveness, but given the turn their relationship took it was implied heavily).
The plot, in the middle, got kind of repetitive – we saw Genie testing her powers out multiple times to fight demons – but it picked up towards the end. I didn’t see that betrayal coming though, in hindsight, I probably should’ve. (Oblivious, as usual.) And that ending was a bit anti-climatic. Like, we got all this build-up for Red Boy and he actually wasn’t so bad??
Yeah, I was a little disappointed, but whatever. Because overall, yes, this book had its faults. But if there’s anything you all should’ve gotten from this review, it’s this:
GENIE LO IS AMAZING.
Really, this review is – let’s admit it – practically a love letter to her. So yes, like I was saying, this book does falter. But Genie Lo pulls it forwards with her steely determination and her inability to put up with other people’s bullshit. She’s a character I had no trouble cheering for, and I can’t wait for the sequel!!
But I have to wait until December 31st apparently! *wails* This is why I don’t read uncompleted series people! I’m left with headaches of cliffhangers aasdlnkfhjbeewbf and just why?? Do I put myself through this??