Goodreads: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo’s every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.
Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.
Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined…
I don’t normally read a lot of urban/paranormal fantasy, so The Epic Crush of Genie Lo was an unusual choice for me. I’ve seen reviews that focus on the fact that the novel is inspired by Chinese mythology, and it’s true that the author draws on and explains characters and events from the great classic Journey to the West. However, the focus of the novel is really on Genie and a mysterious new student at her high school going around California’s Bay Area slaying demons. So…urban fantasy. And while that’s not my preferred genre, I was attracted to Genie’s non-demon-slaying life, where’s she just a teenage girl doing her best in high school to get accepted into a great college. A determined teen with real world problems is something I can always get behind in YA.
I’ve commented before on my dissatisfaction with the way the college application process is frequently represented in young adult novels. Far too often, college applications are a side concern, barely mentioned in the book or on the character’s mind—and yet by the end of the story the character is accepted into his/her first choice college with apparently little effort, doubt, or issue. (And, yes, that first choice school is usually somewhere incredibly selective.)
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo gets the college application process right. Genie really, really wants to go to a top-ranked school—and she is single-mindedly focused on that goal. She worries about her grades and her standardized test scores. She picks extracurricular activities she thinks will look good to admissions committees. She even hires a college counselor who helps her revise her personal statement and get all her application materials right. Now, obviously this is not the way all or even most students approach college applications. (I certainly didn’t.) But it is the way many students who have the resources, personal drive, and parental push will approach their goal of getting into one of America’s most elite universities. Getting into these schools is tough, and this novel understands that a lot of students (and their parents) put years of work and planning into the attempt. Basically, I found it refreshing to read a YA book that acknowledges that being accepted to a top-ranked school is not necessarily easy or an accident for many high schoolers.
The demon-slaying part of the novel is fun, too, of course. The author does a nice job of balancing Genie’s “normal” high school life with epic battle scenes where she and her handsome crime fighting partner send evil beings back to Hell. There is also a good amount of exposition for readers, like me, who may not have read the source material for the mythological aspects, Journey to the West. (Though personally I did find a bit of the fight scenes drawn out and occasionally skimmed to the point where the demon was properly defeated.) A bit of romance and some focus on Genie’s relationships with her parents and her friends at school round out the story and make Genie seem like a real person.
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is a great choice for readers looking for unique YA that combines contemporary fiction and fantasy. It’s a bit darker than Sailor Moon, but it has the same balance of real teenagers with “average” teenage concerns who also need to be worried about honing their superpowers and saving the world.