Desert Isle Keeper
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo
There are plenty of books about teens discovering that they have supernatural powers, and even a strong subset of those involving gods and demon-slayers. What Genie Lo brings to the table to make The Epic Crush of Genie Lo stand out from the crowd is the infusion of Chinese and Chinese-American elements, stellar prose, and a terrific nuanced female lead.
Genie Lo is, in some ways, the archetypal Bay Area Chinese-American girl, resume-obsessed in her pursuit of an ultra-elite college. But in other ways, Genie doesn’t fit the mold. She’s enormously tall, her family is low-income, and her parents are separated. Oh, and she’s also the reincarnation of a figure from ancient Chinese myth (I won’t tell you which one, since it will spoil a great joke), and she’s supposed to team up with Quentin Sun – who is definitely not the fresh-off-the-boat new kid he pretends to be at school – to slay demons.
Every story like this has to go through a ‘character denies what they’re being told by the experts’ arc, but Genie Lo’s is so well written it never feels like a re-tread. Most impressively, the male author of this book captures the sense of peril that Genie would feel as Quentin constantly pursues and regales her with outlandish stories (even though his abs are something spectacular). That’s not the only time I was impressed by Yee’s writing of a female character. For instance, although Genie isn’t comfortable with her height, she’s learned to embrace what it does bring her as a volleyball blocker:
“When people asked why [I love the sport], I told them I thrived on the camaraderie. In reality, though, I liked destroying people. Single-handedly. I liked ruining the carefully crafted offensive schemes of the other team simply by existing. For five sets a week, the world was unfair in my favor. That didn’t happen very often.”
Yay for competitive girls and normalizing aggressive instincts!
The rest of the prose is equally lively and Genie’s first-person narration had me laughing out loud. Genie wants a top college, not Brown, the “caboose of the Ivy train” (especially funny because the author went to Brown). At one point, a character has brought “a huge urn of horridly expensive baijiu, big enough to toast the entire Communist Party.” Although the Chinese words throughout the book are italicized, they are not translated, and it’s great fun if you know or look up that, say, Quentin has just dropped the Chinese equivalent of “motherfucker.”
I really loved the elements of Chinese legend blended into the book. A particular highlight is the appearance of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, whose characterization makes you realize that someone capable of supernatural love and forgiveness can be even more terrifying than someone grounded in rage. On the other hand, while Yee does a better job than many authors of divinity stories, of explaining why the gods can’t just fix everything, it’s still not flawless.
The least successful part of the book is the relationship. Genie has a vague crush on a classmate, but spends all of her time with Quentin. Her time with Quentin is very satisfying in terms of Genie’s growth, but there’s so little romance between the two of them that I was actually surprised by the ending. if you’re going to put “Epic Crush” in your title, you have to a) tell a story featuring a crush and b) make it, you know, epic.
I picked up this book because the sequel, The Iron Will of Genie Lo, came out in January and I wanted to start at the beginning. Suffice it to say that I will definitely continue with Genie’s adventures.
Buy it at: Amazon / Audible or shop at your local independent bookstore
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