My rating: 5 of 5 stars
So, the great part about Monkey Around is that you don't need to be a Journey to the West kind of person to know what's going on! Though I suppose if you come with that kind of literary background you'd probably pick up things (clues? inside jokes?) that I might have missed. But not knowing is also cool and doesn't detract from the story as a whole, because you're taken on a journey of discovery with Maya herself!
Maya MacQueen is on a journey of discovering what she truly is - is she just a were-monkey, or is she something more? What lies behind the supercool powers she has that Ayo, magic-human-boss, doesn't seem to recognise? But in the midst of protesting at Occupy, barista-ing at Cafe Sanc-ahh, and taking on odd jobs for Ayo (like tracking down a missing aswang), supernatural creatures are turning up dead. Like Wayland Soh, the harimau jadian, and Bu-Bu, the bajang. And the only clue she has is that this soul-eating shadow is just like her.
What I love about Monkey Around is the wide range of cultures and supernatural creatures from all around the world that just appear, but is somehow still so rooted in place. Jang explores the many different were-creatures and magic users around the world that have migrated to (or pass through) the Bay, though two cultures are featured with some prominence - the Asian-American and Mexican (Mesoamerican?) communities.
With so many things going on, it feels like the disparate cultures and creatures should pull the story apart - or at least confuse it too much. Yet it doesn't. There's one thing that pulls them together, that provides a defining feature - the San Francisco Bay Area. The place feels like a character of its own. It speaks to Maya, it searches for its guardian. It's actively trying to save itself, and I love it. I also admit to having a soft spot for it in my heart due to the many times I once travelled there for work.
The most annoying thing about Monkey Around, though, is in my opinion, Maya. And that's actually a very personal thing. Okay, I should explain that a bit. Many readers gush about how much they *love* a character. I don't...fall in love with characters. There are very few characters that I super like, and that's also mostly because there are very few real people that I like. But there are very, very many characters that I hate, and that kind of correlates to the amount of real life people I just find annoying and tiresome and don't want to deal with. So back to the story, you know how you meet someone and they just...irritate you for no definable reason? Just one of those personalities that grates on you but everyone else is ok with (and maybe even like)? That's Maya for me. She's amusing to a point, until she protests "but the Monkey in me...." one too many times and [Anna stabs the Main Character].
At any rate, Monkey Around is a fun urban fantasy read that explores the diversity of the Bay, identity, and place.
Note: I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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