Genie is a very tall, slightly awkward, sixteen year old girl. Every hour of her day is spent in homework, volleyball, volunteering and trying to get into the college of her dreams. She’d like to think she has enough things on her plate, thank you very much, without the appearance of a very beautiful and very obnoxious boy half her size. But Quentin Sun, ‘transfer’ student from somewhere (definitely not China), seems to think that he knows her, worse, that she belongs to him somehow, and she just can’t let that stand.
But Quentin has a strange habit of getting everything to go his way and Genie’s mother may have fallen in love with the very idea of him. Genie’s attempts to get him to leave her alone certainly aren’t helped by the sudden appearance of demons from traditional Chinese mythology, or the revelation that she might not be quite human.
Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but even creatures from Chinese Mythology have to work to try and get into Princeton, and Genie isn’t giving that up for anything.
To say that I simply enjoyed this book would be doing it a disservice. I loved it.
One of the strongest parts of this story was definitely the narrative voice. It’s smooth, sharp and effortlessly witty, without you ever getting the feeling that Genie is anything other than a sixteen year old girl. If I had to compare Yee’s voice to another author it would definitely be Rick Riordan. A bit out there, a bit slapstick, and very very good. At certain points in the story , to help us clueless readers, Yee explains some of the more salient points of Chinese Mythology and, honestly, if Yee were to write a book of myths from Genie’s point of view I would preorder it in approximately two seconds.
The second thing on my ‘most beloved list’ are the characters. Genie is stubborn, driven and impatient, she’s bored and uncomfortable with herself, aka, she reads exactly like my sixteen year old self. Quentin is just…it’s very obvious from early on that he’s not functioning on human social norms. He’s blunt, arrogant and frustratingly charming. It’s the perfect recipe for an uncontrolled explosion, and, wow, when it blows, it blows. There are a couple of other characters in the book that I’d love to meet in more detail, especially Genie’s fierce mother and effervescent friend, Eunie, but as there’s a sequel on the way, I can hope that we see more of them there.
Now, going into this story I knew very little about Chinese Mythology. So little. Did it affect my reading? The answer is no, because Yee explains every mythological element in fun, engaging ways. You never feel that you’re getting forcefed information, it’s a lot more relaxed than that. There’s also a lot of references to Chinese culture and, specifically, the culture of the Chinese diaspora. Genie is raised Chinese-American, and whilst there are a lot of similarities with mainland Chinese culture, the diaspora also have cultures which are specifically their own. It was refreshing to read Chinese-American characters that were written by a Chinese-American author, not the cardboard cutouts, or just sheer non-existance, of such characters that we usually see in western media.
I will warn you that for the first 20-30% of the book that you might find Quentin almost pathologically annoying, very much in the same way that I’m sure Genie does. But he grows and changes and, indeed, Genie grows and changes through the book. Many of Quentin’s actions also make a lot more sense once you realise who he is.
The part of the story that resonated most with me is Genie’s academic life. I was once a hard nosed, over driven kid trying to get into a top Medical School. I worked all the time, did extracurriculars all the time, and was absolutely obsessed with getting where I wanted to go. It was painful, it wasn’t fun, but it never felt like an option to not be fighting for my future. Goal driven characters tend to maybe get slightly villainised in YA, or at least, the moral of the story tends to be that they’re happier when they’re not fighting above their weight. ‘Genie Lo’ does something different in that is advocates balance, work hard but also be aware of your social and personal needs. Work hard, but make sure you’re working hard at what you enjoy. I think that as a sixteen year old I would have been pretty chuffed to see myself in a book like that.
‘Genie Lo’ is not the book that I expected it to be. It is more than I expected it to be. I’m honestly a little shocked that Yee is a debut author. It’s laugh out loud funny, warm and quirky and I think that if you’re looking for something fun, and a little bit different then definitely give this a go.
Many thanks to Amulet Books for a copy in return for an honest review!
— Kari Rhiannon 🌙 (@Kkharrin) July 15, 2017