My Summary: Fiona is the daughter of infamous super-villain Manson Ng, but all she wants to do is live a normal life. However, on her thirteenth birthday, her father is kidnapped by an enemy. The ransom demanded is the NOVA, an extremely lethal nuclear weapon that could wipe out an entire city. All of a sudden, Fiona is in charge of her father’s henchmen and must launch a rescue mission. Good thing her father gave her a flamethrower to strap to her arm for her birthday present.
Asians have been typecast as villains in the U.S. for over a hundred years. The racist stereotype of the “yellow peril” has a long history. For those who don’t know, the yellow peril is the idea that Asians are cunning, ruthless, barbaric hordes who will take over and destroy white civilization. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other anti-Asian legislation in the U.S. were fueled by this xenophobic stereotype. Outside of the legal realm, the stereotype has been perpetuated in books, films, TV shows, etc. American pop culture has seen its share of yellow peril villains: Fu Manchu, Ming the Merciless–the list goes on.
The refreshing thing about Little Miss Evil is that even though Manson Ng is an Asian villain, his villainy is not attributed to or associated with his Asianness. He’s just your typical bad guy who wants to build weapons, steal things, and cackle evilly. Also, he happens to love his daughter a lot and is unintentionally funny with his idiosyncrasies.
And Fiona, despite being the daughter of a villain, is the protagonist and hero of the story. Through her narration, we see her view of Manson Ng: the melodramatic but ultimately caring father. We also see both the perks and downsides to being related to a super-villain.
The plot of this book never strays from the rescue mission. It’s a fast-paced narrative featuring lots of action, suspense, and twists. Even so, it manages to squeeze in a little humor, family bonding moments, and super-villain backstory.
The bonus cherry on top is the way this story smashes certain Asian American tropes in unconventional and hilarious ways. For example, during a conversation with her father about her future, this exchange happens:
“I. Don’t Want. To. Be. A. Super. Villain! I want to have a normal career. I want to go to college and become a doctor and go to Africa to help starving children*!”
Dad turns beet-red. “A doctor? Africa?” He spits each word onto the floor, as if they are chunks of bitter melon dripped in disappointment sauce. “Why don’t you just stab a knife into my heart?”
Usually, the kid is being forced by the parent(s) to become a doctor, and they rebel against that, thus disappointing the parent(s). Here, the kid wants to become a doctor to rebel against the parent. Because the alternative is going into the family business and becoming a super-villain.
There’s also a scene where Fiona gets a 100 on a math test, but not because she’s an Asian math genius. She actually made mistakes on the test. However, her teacher didn’t mark them wrong because the super-villain parents of one of her classmates (she goes to school with two other kids with super-villains as parents) threatened the teacher into giving their daughter a good grade. The teacher gave Fiona a 100 to avoid the risk of backlash from her father. Ha.
So, there are two problematic things I noticed, relatively small but still worth addressing. The first is the asterisk from the bit I quoted above. When Fiona talks about becoming a doctor to help save starving children in Africa, it does the following: 1) homogenizes a huge and diverse continent into a monolith, 2) portrays Africa through the lens of a racist stereotype of poverty-stricken people, 3) perpetuates the Western savior narrative that leads to well-intentioned but ill-advised “voluntourism” that centers the ego of the “savior” and not the needs and agency of the people being helped.
The other thing was the portrayal of a secondary character named Ruby, who has albinism. Although she isn’t a completely one-dimensional character, the way her physical appearance is described (particularly the “blood-red eyes”) perpetuates the othering of people with albinism. Her overall meanness is also falls into the stereotype of people with albinism as “villainous, deviant, supernatural or sadistic” (quoted from albinism.org).
Recommendation: Not for romance fans, as there is zero romance (it’s a middle grade novel, anyway). Great for people who enjoy action, adventure, and kickass heroines!