Ever since moving from California to Georgia with her mother, 11-year-old Thom Ngho has felt out of place. She’s painfully aware of her Vietnamese ethnicity at her nearly all-white school, and she’s also hiding barely controlled superhuman strength. When she accidentally frees the legendary Monkey King from his prison, the trickster god takes Thom into his confidence, encouraging her to embrace her power through training. Instead, Thom makes a deal: she’ll help the Monkey King retrieve his magical cudgel if he’ll take her strength in return. The task requires her to sneak into the heavens without getting stuck there for eternity, and to face off against a host of celestial beings, including a dragon who claims the Monkey King is up to no good. In this heartwarming #OwnVoices debut, Hoang captures the confusion and frustration of a girl caught between multiple worlds, uncomfortable with her own identity. As Thom copes with bullies at school and an overbearing mother at home, she tries to distance herself from her family’s cultural identity until it becomes impossible to ignore. This entertaining blend of the mundane and fantastical is packed with emotion and sure to strike a chord with readers—Thom’s desire for acceptance and normality is universally relatable, and her resilience makes her an ideal, if reluctant, hero. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Mary C. Moore, Kimberley Cameron & Assoc. (Oct.)
School Library Journal
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.—Clare A. Dombrowski, Amesbury P.L., MA
Desperate to get rid of her abnormal strength and live a normal life, Thom turns to the trickster Monkey King for help.
Somehow, Thom Ngho has become incredibly strong. Strong enough to break windows and doors, strong enough to kick a soccer ball right through the goal’s netting. She has no idea how this came about or how to put an end to it, so she hides her powers, letting her soccer coach bench her, which is better than the alternative. To make matters worse, her mother has suddenly moved them from their home in California to Georgia, where Thom is the only Vietnamese American kid in a mostly White school. When the Monkey King appears in her bedroom one night, Thom realizes that the stories she heard growing up—about Monkey, the Boy Giant, and more—may really be true. With the dubious help of the Monkey King and a dragon who claims to be her protector, Thom sets out on a journey through Vietnamese folklore and mythology while simultaneously juggling school life and her relationship with her mother. Spinning a fantastic tale of adventure, humor, and mischief, Hoang also incorporates portrayals of racism, belonging, identity, and intergenerational differences that ring true, crafting a fantasy for the modern age with enough complications to hint at more to come. Charming spot art enhances the wonder of the fantasy elements.
At its core, a tale of magic and family strongly grounded in contemporary reality. (Fantasy. 9-12)
From the Publisher
A fantastic tale of adventure, humor, and mischief.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"This entertaining blend of the mundane and fantastical is packed with emotion and sure to strike a chord with readers." Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Girl Giant and the Monkey King is the best kind of fantasy compelling in equal parts because of the magic and adventure and the heart of the characters." Amber Reed of Copperfield's Books
"A tale that deals with important issues of fitting in and cultural understanding, while soaring into the realms of myth and magical adventure." School Library Journal