Review by Claudine Yip
Amulet Books, January 2020
304 pages, Hardcover, $23.99 CAD, 978-1-4197-3145-7
Ages 13+, Grades 7+
Young Adult, Action/Adventure, Fantasy
I nearly pull out my hair with one yank. “Demons, Chinese demons called yaoguai—they’re real! They’re wandering the Bay Area as we speak! You know the Bodhisatva Guanyin? I’ve met her. We saved the lives of everyone in the city!”
Yunie looked at me with her calm doe eyes, as placid as could be. “That sounds like something you would do.”
Last time, she saved the city. Next up: the universe? Or worse: college applications?
In F. C. Yee’s debut novel, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, Genie Lo discovers that she’s the reincarnated bow-staff weapon of the legendary Sun Wukong, rescues the San Francisco Bay Area from a barrage of demons hailing from Chinese mythology, and is named the official Divine Guardian of the State of California.
Now, in this striking sequel and conclusion to the series, 16-year-old Genie sets out on a long-weekend trip to try out college life before application season starts. While she hopes to forget about her Heavenly duties and the awful fight she just had with her boyfriend (Quentin Sun Wukong) for a few days, Genie must join Quentin in the world of gods once more when the ruler of Heaven goes missing, just as a mysterious force begins threatening to rip the universe apart.
I found Genie empowering as a female and Asian American YA protagonist. Along with straying from the wallflower stereotype, the fact that Genie’s ethnicity is not what distinguishes her from her peers is refreshing. As such, Genie’s conflicts aren’t solely tied to modern hardships of cultural belonging, and so her identity crisis doesn’t derive from her upbringing with two immigrant parents; rather, it largely stems from the fantasy elements of the plot: from the revelation that she’s been reincarnated, and that an entire mythological world has become her new reality. However, the portal fantasy mechanism also introduces and enhances new elements of Chinese culture with its use of Chinese mythology. Yee succeeds in capturing the precarious balance that comes with living in the diaspora by using these mythological characters, as Genie struggles to challenge the misogynistic views of Chinese gods who are thousands of years stuck in tradition.
Taking advantage of the expansive world of Chinese mythology Yee set up in the first novel of the duology, a heavy portion of the sequel’s first half is grounded with setting and Genie’s uncertainties regarding her post-secondary future, while Heaven’s headaches distract her on the side. Yee’s use of pacing in this first act takes care to establish the stakes for Genie—what college might mean for both her family and her relationship—before she literally dives into another dimension. Here, Yee crafts a true entanglement of two conflicting but equally pressing aspects of Genie’s reality, and they only become more intertwined the longer she tries to keep them apart.
What I loved about this novel is that it offers both the escapism of battling other-worldly forces and the grounding reality of nearing adulthood. Yee weaves these two together in the narrative by emphasizing the subtle gift and terrifying responsibility of choice. Genie has already had the burden of reincarnation thrust upon her—now, she must choose to keep fighting, or decide that it’s time to stop. And when the dust settles on the battlefield, she’ll have to go home and pick a path for her future.
If you’re a fan of American Born Chinese and Percy Jackson but thought they were missing a heavy dose of feminism, I’d recommend picking this duology up. Get ready to laugh in the face of tradition alongside a sharp protagonist with a fierce heart.
Claudine Yip is studying Creative Writing with an Art History minor at UBC. She is currently drafting her way through a YA contemporary novel and sporadically blogs about food as an excuse to post all the pictures she takes at bubble tea shops. Visit her at cyieat.wordpress.com.