Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Katie Zhao is a fun new middle grade. Winnie is ready to take on middle school until she finds out she comes from a long line of shamans.
All quotes are from an advanced reader copy, and may or may not reflect the published edition.
Winnie Zeng has two goals: survive her first year of middle school and outdo her stuck-up archnemesis, David Zuo. It won’t be easy, since, according to her older sister, middle school is the pits. Luckily, Winnie studied middle school survival tactics in comic books and anime, and nothing will stop her from being the very best student.
But none of Winnie’s research has prepared her to face the mother of all hurdles: evil spirits. When she makes mooncakes for a class bake sale, she awakens the stuff of legends from her grandmother’s old cookbook, spilling otherworldly chaos into her sleepy town.
Suddenly Winnie finds herself in a race against time, vanquishing demons instead of group projects. Armed with a magic cookbook and a talking white rabbit, she must embrace her new powers and legacy of her ancestors. Because if she doesn’t, her town—and rest of the world—may fall to chaos forever.
Characters: 7 | Atmosphere: 5 | Writing: 5 | Plot: 6 | Intrigue: 8 | Logic: 8 | Enjoyment: 7
total: 6.57/3 stars
“Pro tip: never infuriate an Asian mother. It might be the last thing you ever do.”
Winnie Zeng is a fun main character, who really is well written for her age. She has a hard time understanding why the adults and older kids in her life act a certain way. She’s experiencing genuine bullying and microaggressions for seemingly the first time. And, of course, spirits are real and she has to decide if she wants to become a shaman. Just normal, middle school activities.
“I just wanted Mama and Baba to be proud of me for once, instead of David.”
While the primary plot of this book is clear, unfortunately, the underlying messages are not. The book felt haphazardly pieced together as if this was a draft of ideas rather than the almost finalized version. Is being a hero confronting your bullies? Is it choosing yourself over what might make others happy? Or perhaps it’s finding support from your family? If this was a longer book or a YA to adult book, there would be room for these many life lessons. In a middle grade, especially one this short, these lessons fall flat and miss their marks. They feel rushed as if no one was sure which to focus on when writing.
“Maybe heroes didn’t have to always do big, flashy things, like fly through the sky with their capes billowing behind them, on their way to save the city. Maybe heroes could stand up to their own bullies first.”
Winnie is our most interesting character, but the other characters feel like afterthoughts. Again, this continues to feel like a draft in that our side characters feel underdeveloped. There was room for improvement with them, and I think it would have made the book more enjoyable.
“I had to pursue what was most important to me.”
This book was fun, and while I think there was room for improvement, I didn’t dislike it.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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