Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, by F. C. Lee

Coincidentally, I recently started watching a Korean drama and then picked up a library book that both involve a version of the Chinese mythical character the Monkey King. Turns out he is an awesomely fun character to play with, and both the drama (which is halfway through its airing) and the book are hugely entertaining.

I had vaguely heard of the Monkey King before this, but I boned up a little on my Chinese literary history and learned about the 16th C novel, Journey to the West, in which a monk goes on a quest to find sacred manuscripts with the help of three supernatural protectors. The Monkey King is a trickster god; he made a ruckus in heaven and was buried under a mountain for 500 years in punishment, and now he is tasked to help the monk on his journey by protecting him from various monsters and demons. He's ridiculously powerful and not at all trustworthy!

In The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, ohhhhhhh, I want to tell you how The Monkey King shows up in a boring California suburb, but I can't possibly spoil that scene for you, so mmmmblfarg. Aaaannnnnnyway, although he's an important character, the story is really about Genie, and she is a supremely awesome heroine. Demons start showing up all over (in the frozen yogurt place: I mean, come on, that's not fair!) and she has to decide whether to unlock the ancient powers she apparently possesses and save the world. Or, you know, stay normal and get into an Ivy League college. Or try to do both and fit in a little romance on the side. Yes, there are nods to Buffy; there's also a fair bit of spoofing a lot of YA tropes (the gorgeous new transfer student who appears irresistibly attracted to the heroine for no good reason, for example). (I loved the way Genie reacted to him!)

This book is really, really funny. Genie punches lots of demons and has awkward conversations with her mother and gets terribly annoyed at the Monkey King character, and it's pretty much a hoot from start to finish. But it's also got great themes about being true to yourself and discovering your inner strength (because of course those are the themes when a girl discovers she's the reincarnation of mmmblfarg not going to tell you because it's a pretty awesome reveal, even if you're not familiar with the legend).

Remember Pop Rocks (is that what they were called?), those ridiculous candies that popped on your tongue (rather painfully, if I recall). This book reminded me of those: sweet and hilarious and unexpected. With lots of punching.

The Korean drama, if you're interested, is called Hwayugi, and is also very funny, with a romance that I didn't think was going to work at all but is managing to capture me. I'm loving all the plot twists that are possible when you have a bunch of genuinely amoral supernatural characters. (No one can trust anyone!) (But then they start caring about each other, and you're like "awwww, that's so sweet. He'll probably stab you in the back later, but awww!") The best character of all is the zombie girl—serious props to the actress for being utterly convincing. It's not done yet, but I think I'll end up highly recommending this one.