STARRED REVIEW
August 08, 2017

A teen discovers her epic destiny

Behind the Book by

Confession time: As a reader and consumer of fiction, I love the Tournament trope. My favorite part of any anime is when all of the characters stop what they’re doing to participate in a bracketed competition, no matter how much it derails the story. If the tournament is the story, even better.

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Tough 16-year-old Chinese-American high school student Genie Lo is busy preparing for the college application process. She’s just trying to keep her grades up and her head down when she meets Quentin—the new transfer student from China. But there’s something a little otherworldy about the handsome, puzzling and charming Quentin. To make things even weirder, he also claims to know Genie from a previous life—a life where she fought evil. Based on the Chinese myth of the Monkey King, this hilarious and action-packed story will have readers cheering for Genie and Quentin as they try to defend the Bay Area from ancient Chinese demons known as yaoguai.

F.C. Yee’s The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is a smart and witty fantasy that readers of all ages will easily fall for.


Confession time: As a reader and consumer of fiction, I love the Tournament trope. My favorite part of any anime is when all of the characters stop what they’re doing to participate in a bracketed competition, no matter how much it derails the story. If the tournament is the story, even better. I love the preconflict uncertainty where you try to guess which of your favorite main characters has the edge based off what you’ve seen of their development. I love the mysterious strangers who show up and kick ass without any character development. I even love the inversions of the Tournament trope, like [in “Avatar”] when Zuko tries to honorably Agni Kai with Azula and she gleefully decides nope.

Tangent time: I studied Economics in college. My education in the subject only goes up to undergrad, and I was never very good at it, so I remember little. One thing I do remember though, is the academic definition of a tournament: a competition with multiple participants where the prizes are heavily weighted toward the victors. A winner-take-all outcome when it comes to resource distribution.

Consider the exact example my outdated textbook used. If Robin Williams (R.I.P.) is the funniest actor in movies and is somehow objectively twice as funny as the next funniest actor in movies, this hypothetical second-place person doesn’t get paid half as much as Robin Williams. They get paid a comparative pittance because the entire audience can get their funny bones tickled by Robin Williams, the best of the best. Like many examples used in textbooks, there’s tons of problems there, but you get the general idea. Random lotteries are not tournaments because the effort to enter is equal. Economic tournaments require the participants to put in effort.

Point time: The degree to which economic tournaments appear in life is surprising, or at least it was to me once I knew what to look for. I design for a living. Tournaments are never designed to benefit the participants. They’re designed to extract maximum value for the organizers, by having the total amount of effort contributed by the participant population during the tournament duration be much higher than the baseline effort without the competition.

That was a mouthful, but the effects of a tournament structure are much simpler to understand. They require a steady stream of participants who are willing to most likely NOT receive a reward proportionate to the level of effort they put in. Maybe they know this part of the deal going in, or maybe they’re overly optimistic. Does every person who enters the World Series of Poker have an accurate read on their chances of winning? I don’t know.

Tournaments are also one of the lowest-investment ways for an organizer to distribute rewards, which is probably one of the reasons why they’re so commonly used. Just make sure the top is massively overweighted. If there’s only one prize, and the winner does a 100 in terms of effort, you don’t have to worry about the runner-up who did a 99 effort. They get nothing. It’s a feature, not a bug.

Outside of sports and other competitive extracurriculars, one of the first very big, very important tournaments a young person is going to face is college applications, provided their desires and circumstances lead them in and allow them that direction. Imagine a high school student as a challenger exiting a small dark hallway into a vast arena covered by the blinding sun. They don’t know who their opponents are, or how strong they might be. They may not have been coached, or they may have been given outdated information. And everywhere, everywhere in the stands, they see adults nodding their heads, cheering: Yes. This is how it should be. This is what meritocracy looks like.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is about gods, demons and make-believe punching. It’s about the comedy and pain that can ensue when a culture that you’ve never truly experienced as a child of immigrants suddenly catches up with you.

But on some level, whether or not it’s the deepest one, it’s about a high school girl’s slow realization and reaction to the fact that she lives in one long, high stakes, never-ending tournament arc. We could laugh, but then again, so do the rest of us.

F.C. Yee

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