(No actual dueling—or even arm-twisting—was involved. Don’t worry, this is a dual review, not a duel review. Sorry if you’re disappointed.)
It’s been so long since I’ve done a dual review. I was excited to be able to buddy read this newest book with Danielle Hammelef, the latest winner of my Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up “Make Me Read It” giveaway. Danielle chose to make me read Girl Giant and the Monkey King by Van Hoang. I read the book and then sent it along to Danielle, and we did a dual review together.
Read on to see what we thought of the book…
Girl Giant and the Monkey King by Van Hoang
Illustrator: Nguyen Quang, Kim Lien
Published by Square Fish on December 7, 2021
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Retellings
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: MG (Some MG-level violence)
From debut author Van Hoang comes Girl Giant and the Monkey King, a tale packed with magic, adventure, and middle-school woes—perfect for fans of Rick Riordan and Roshani Chokshi.
Eleven-year-old Thom Ngho is keeping a secret: she’s strong. Like suuuuper strong. Freakishly strong. And it’s making it impossible for her to fit in at her new middle school.
In a desperate bid to get rid of her super strength, Thom makes a deal with the Monkey King, a powerful deity and legendary trickster she accidentally released from his 500-year prison sentence. Thom agrees to help the Monkey King get back his magical staff if he'll take away her strength.
Soon Thom is swept up in an ancient and fantastical world in where demons, dragons, and Jade princesses actually exist. But she quickly discovers that magic can’t cure everything, and dealing with the trickster god might be more trouble than it’s worth.
A magical adventure into the world of Vietnamese folklore!
What Fed Our Addiction:
The mother-daughter relationship between Thom and her mom. I enjoyed the tension between them (many readers, including myself, will identify with the mother and daughter relationship struggles) and how Thom wanted to be different than her mom, but her mom still had dreams and wishes for her daughter. I loved both characters’ fierceness (I laughed out loud when Thom’s mom was banned from attending her soccer games) as well as their fierce loyalty to each other. When Thom stood up for her mom, I was cheering her on.
So true. These two were wonderful together! I also agree that many kids will be able to identify with the combination of love and frustration that goes into a mother/daughter bond. Family relationships are sometimes strained, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. And, of course, Thom’s feelings for her mom were further complicated by her desire to fit in with her classmates, something many Asian American kids can probably relate to.
Vietnamese culture and mythology. From the foods to the religion to the traditional dress–I always enjoy learning more about cultures that are not mine. And the Monkey King and his brothers, as well as the characters we meet in the heavens, were interwoven very well. I can honestly say this was the reason I wanted to read this book. The author didn’t disappoint me.
This is definitely the reason I picked up this book as well. I love that books can introduce us to new cultures and perspectives, and I will confess that I knew very little about Vietnamese food, dress, or mythology. I loved that the author incorporated the school’s culture day into the book so these things could be woven into the story naturally. And the Monkey King and Thom’s trip to the mythological land of the Gods were highlights of the story for me. I wasn’t familiar with these stories, and I loved learning about them in this fictional journey!
I agree! I loved the play on the mythological Giant Boy as a girl. And I also thought it was very interesting that the book focused on the difficulties of having super strength rather than the benefits. Thom didn’t see her newfound strength as a gift. For her, it was more of a curse that messed up her life and made her even more different than the other kids around her.
What Left Us Hungry for More:
Pacing. Middle grade novels, especially fantasy, need to be faster-paced than this book. Many parts to me seemed repetitive and/or long-winded.
Yes, I would agree there were times when the pacing could have been improved, especially in the beginning of the book. Once the action moved to the more fantastical realm, the pace picked up, but it took us a while to get there.
Thom’s lack of doubts about the Monkey King. I struggled with how quickly Thom accepted the Monkey King’s word, how she believed him, despite knowing the stories she’d been told. I get that Thom felt misunderstood and alienated as an Asian middle schooler in a class of few kids who shared her ethnicity and how she wanted to just fit in (this is what all middle school kids struggle with), but when she started to reject Kha and then didn’t believe him, I didn’t believe her character would make these decisions.
I wondered about this too. I did think it was interesting that the Monkey King was presented as a somewhat misunderstood character, though. I was never quite sure if Thom should be trusting him–maybe he really wasn’t as bad as everyone seemed to think just because of his demon heritage? But then, when Kha came into the picture and she completely ignored him, it was definitely a case of turning a blind eye to the very real fact that he might be the trickster everyone thought he was. The fact that she didn’t question this more, especially when she went into the fantastical world of the gods, was frustrating.
So, that wraps up our thoughts on Girl Giant and the Monkey King. I’m glad Danielle Made Me Read It so I had this chance to learn some Vietnamese mythology!
***Disclosure: Nicole received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review (and Danielle received it from Nicole). No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author
Van Hoang’s first name is pronounced like the van in minivan. Her last name is pronounced “hah-wawng.” She earned her bachelor’s in English at the University of New Mexico and her master’s in library information science at San Jose State University. She was born in Vietnam, grew in up Orange County, California, and now resides in Los Angeles with her husband, kid, and two dogs. Girl Giant and the Monkey King is her debut novel, with the sequel Girl Giant and the Jade War coming out in December, 2021.
Have you read this one? What did you think? We want to know!