I needed something fun and not too heavy to clear my mind before I dived into Kindred, and The Epic Crush of Genie Lo ended up being the perfect fit (thanks emmalita for the rave review!). Genie Lo grew up in the poor side of the Bay Area, and she wants out. She and her friend Yunie (they share the name Eugenia) are using academics and an extraordinary amount of extracurriculars as their ticket out, though Yunie’s accomplishments on the piano may give her a slight leg up. While Genie is a good, involved student, she also struggles with highlighting her personality during her practice admission essays. Per her counselor, her first draft was a compilation of statistics regarding her achievements.
As if her life was not busy enough with trying to get into the Ivy League, a new student, Quentin Sun, shows up and starts making her life more difficult. At first, he attempts to excuse his awkward behavior and slight stalking as not understanding cultural differences but after a run in with an ancient Chinese demon behind the library, he fills her in who he is and their relationship in Genie’s previous incarnation.
Quentin reveals that he was drawn to her school because he noticed potential demons in the area, something that hasn’t occurred in centuries. Once he saw Genie, he recognized her aura/energy, and thus tries to convince her of her part in the battle between good and evil. After some initial skepticism, confusion and panic, Genie accepts her role and crams yet another activity into her busy schedule, though she can’t bring this one up on her college apps.
While the story does follow some of the usual chosen one plots, a few things really make this one stand out. First off, the humor! This novel was hilarious. Genie struggles with achieving peace through meditation and Quentin basically describes her style as “get angry and hit hard.” I enjoyed having a female protagonist that was allowed to be angry and draw strength from it. Second, I loved the fact that the novel used mythology and legends I am very unfamiliar with by using a Chinese-American character and Chinese cultural traditions. Genie does not actually know that much more than the reader because she has been focused on school and getting into a good college, fully immersed in American life. As a result, she is a great bridge for the reader to learn. Finally, the relationship between Quentin and Genie! I mean half of the humor is in their interactions, but they genuinely care for each other, so it is not hard to believe that they have a much longer past, even if Genie can no longer remember it in her reincarnated form. Also, while it could have felt super creepy that Genie and Quentin have an obvious attraction, the novel handles it well and prevents it from crossing into weird territory. One way is that the physical attraction is not the focus at all despite some jokes, and the novel is much more about their friendship. The other way is that even though centuries and millennia have passed and Quentin is an immortal being, time passes differently where he has been so that to him they have only been separated for a few months. He, of course, still lived much longer and has a rich past, but he acts and feels like a teenager rather than centuries old man trapped in a teenage body.
I was curious about the author once I completed this and was surprised to discover that it was a man! I never once thought Genie’s behavior was odd, and I want to say how much I appreciate having a male author that wrote a teenage girl as a relatable human. I feel like that probably should not have to be noted but given how often articles talk about some men’s inability to write women, I wanted to point out how well Yee does it and is proof that those other authors have no excuse. The main descriptions of her appearance concern her height/size, which are elements of her past life and actually relevant to the plot.