Girl Giant and the Monkey King

Roaring Brook. Oct. 2020. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250240415.
Gr 3-6–Thom Ngho just wants to fit in, but how can she? She’s really short, she’s Vietnamese, and her mother just moved her to Troy, GA, where there is only one other Asian student at school (Kathy, who is Korean, perfect, and hangs out with the two white girls who are bullying Thom). Oh, and there’s the superhuman strength that she has developed, so she’s trying to hide that as well. Things seem to be getting slightly better after she accidentally releases the Monkey King, a demon god she thought was only lore, and a Vietnamese boy moves in down the street and wants to be her friend (although Kha isn’t who he says he is). While Thom thinks she is helping the Monkey King, she sneaks into Heaven, only to learn about her own origins. She starts to find an inner strength to match her outer power. Unfortunately, her realization comes too late and she makes a mistake that could destroy Heaven and the world. This book ends on a cliff-hanger, so readers will be hankering for the sequel as soon as they finish. This story centers cultural identity and attempting to thrive in a white world; Thom’s school is depicted as predominantly white, the bullying towards her centers around racism, and teachers cannot even pronounce her name correctly. However, it is also a story of cultural pride and embracing who you are as a person, including your heritage. The explanations of Vietnamese lore do not feel forced and give enough context that even readers discovering the Monkey King or the Four Immortals for the first time will be able to understand the basics. Grayscale pictures intermittently dispersed throughout offer a visual surprise.
VERDICT A tale that deals with important issues of fitting in and cultural understanding, while soaring into the realms of myth and magical adventure. A worthwhile purchase for most collections that will appeal to fans of the “Rick Riordan Presents” series, but the text is less plot-dense and thus more accessible to a slightly younger audience.

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