By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo
By F.C. Yee
Amulet Books, 2017
At her school, Genie Lo is just one of many overachieving Ivy League hopefuls. When she’s not crushing it on the volleyball court or hitting the books, she’s figuring out what she needs to do to get into Harvard—or any school far from her Bay Area suburb.
But then her town is infiltrated by demons straight out of Chinese folklore and Genie’s priorities are quickly rearranged. Acing her SATs doesn’t really compare to protecting the lives of her family and friends. And then she learns that the new kid in school, Quentin Sun, is actually Sun Wukong, the mythological Monkey King. He even has the tail and love of peaches to prove it. And before she knows what’s happening, the two of them are battling demons between classes.
Genie is a strong young woman (in many senses of the word), but doesn’t always see the value in that strength. While this (as well as her height) might make her a good volleyball player, it makes her stand out—something many high schoolers strive to avoid. But as the story unfolds, Genie learns that those characteristics are what will help her battle demons.
While Genie may be reluctant to accept her role in the fight against evil, she quickly becomes motivated by her love for her family and friends. Yee does a great job of portraying the complex and complicated relationships Genie has with her parents and best friend. She’s not always the best daughter or friend, but she acknowledges when she messes up and does what she can to make it up to them.
In addition to Genie, Yee has created a cast of multifaceted secondary characters, from Sun Wukong, to Guanyin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy.
Despite their otherworldly status, they are grounded with very human qualities and flaws, making it easier for readers to connect and relate to them. This also helps readers connect with the folklore aspects of the story, which Yee does a great job of weaving together with Genie’s modern-day world.
By Kat Cho
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books, 2020
The last year for Somin and her friends has been eventful and traumatic, and she just wants to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives. But with Miyoung and Jihoon grieving her mother’s and his grandmother’s deaths, respectively, the only one in their group who seems ready to move forward is Junu, their not-so-favorite dokkaebi, or goblin.
Somin and Junu are not on great terms. Somin thinks Junu is a self-serving conman. And while Junu was initially amused by her hostility toward him, he finds himself drawn to her. Somin can’t deny their mutual attraction, but as the two try to figure out what’s happening between them, they realize last year’s troubles were just the beginning.
“Vicious Spirits” takes place shortly after the events of “Wicked Fox,” Cho’s first book—during which Miyoung, a nine-tailed fox from Korean folklore that feeds on men called a gumiho, lost the source of her power, her fox bead. As a result, there’s been a tear between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and ghosts are suddenly appearing all over Seoul. So now, the foursome must find a way to repair the breach without paying with their lives.
Cho seamlessly weaves together the paranormal world and romance as Somin, Junu, and their friends work to save the world. In this second installment of her Gumiho series, Cho pulls readers deeper into the world of Korean mythology, filled with angry mountain gods, deceitful shamans, and vengeful ghosts.
Readers will get just enough of a taste to have them wanting to learn more.
Every culture has its own mythology and folklore, and in a society where western stories are typically the ones that get told, it is always great to read stories hailing from other parts of the world.
By Shilpa Agarwal
Soho Press, 2010
After her mother dies crossing the border from Pakistan to India during Partition, baby Pinky is taken to Bombay by her grandmother Maji, the matriarch of their powerful Mittal family. Now 13, Pinky lives with Maji and her uncle’s family in their bungalow in Malabar Heights. While her uncle’s family has never really accepted her, Pinky has always had her grandmother’s love.
One night, as monsoons hit the city, Pinky opens a door that’s supposed to stay bolted shut until sunrise every day. As a result, she unleashes the ghost of an infant who drowned shortly before Pinky’s arrival, along with the child’s nursemaid. The ghosts aren’t the only things that are revealed. The three generations of Mittals have come to terms with the secrets, hidden shame, and forbidden love that have also come to the fore.
Told from multiple points of views, “Haunting Bombay” is the story about a family haunted not only by ghosts but by their pasts. Everyone has a story—from Pinky and Maji, to Pinky’s aunt Savita, to Pavarti and Kuntal, the two Bengali sisters working as maids in the bungalow.
One of the things I enjoyed about this book was that Agarwal included stories of not just members of the Mittal family but of the servants in the house as well. Oftentimes, “the help” are portrayed as one-dimensional. But here, they are multifaceted characters with backstories. We learn how they came to work for the Mittal family and the hopes and dreams they have for themselves.
“Haunting Bombay” is a genuinely creepy ghost story that I made the mistake of reading late at night. Agarwal does a great job of weaving together a suspenseful tale filled with mystery that will have readers on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what happens.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.