There are some YA novels that I have read that feel like I’m reading an anime. This is, in part, because some of the light novels that have been adapted to anime were aimed for YA audiences. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is an YA novel that definitely fits that concept, though one with some very different and unique narrative hooks because of the point of view character and setting that make it really worth your while (and makes me wish it would get turned into an animated series).
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo follows the title character, written from her point of view. She is a Chinese-American girl attending a prep school in San Francisco with a predominantly Asian-American student body (mostly Chinese but with a few other Asian ethnicities). Genie is self conscious about her considerable height., about her grades, and about her performance on the volleyball team – that she was roped into joining because of her height. At the moment her main desire is to get good grades, get into a good school, and get out of the Bay Area.
Then her class gets a Mysterious Transfer Student (TM), Quentin Sun, who takes a particular interest in Genie. You see, Quentin is in reality Sun Wukong – or if you’re more familiar with the character from his anime interpretations Son Goku – aka The Monkey King. Further, Genie is a reincarnation of… the Ruyi Jingu Bang – the Monkey King’s staff (you know, the one that can shrink and extend its length). Genie is understandably not happy with this revelation (along with not particularly wanting the super powers that come with it).
However, when it turns out that 108 demons that the Monkey King had sent to hell through the centuries have escaped, and have come to San Francisco, so it’s up to Genie and Quentin to to take them down – while Genie despirately tries to juggle her school life, social life, and her demon slaying life.
If, on reading that, you think “Huh, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo sounds like an anime mix of Buffy, Spider-Man, and some anime monster fighting series like Bleach,” that’s not an unreasonable comparison. That said, the novel does have the different spin on the concept of Genie’s Chinese background. Genie’s family ties, the obligations that her family puts on her to succeed, the pressures she experiences from society as part of a model minority population as a whole, all of those play a major part of the story and her and her characterization.
On the other hand, the book feels like it could have just been a little bit longer. I mean, being left wanting more is a good thing for a story to do. That said, some of the members of the supporting cast could stand to have a little more page time so they can develop. As an example, Genie has a second possible love interest outside of Quentin. However, he just keeps dropping out of the story, to the point that towards the end of the book, when he came up again, my reaction was to generally go “Wait, who is this? Oh, right! That guy!”
Still, I really enjoyed the book, and will definitely be reading the next book in the series. Also, I do want to give a firm recommendation to the audiobook as well. The reader is great, and if you aren’t a Chinese speaker and are struggling with how some of the Chinese words sound in your head, the audiobook (which is read by Nancy Wu) should definitely help with that.
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