Katie Zhao | Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend (Random House)

288 pgs. | $16.00 hardcover, $9.99 Kindle Edition

Having had the opportunity to read Katie Zhao’s previous works, I’ve had familiarity with her writing style and enjoyed all her novels overall. Reading Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend was like having a nice, fluffy blanket wrapped around me while having a nice cup of tea. This is the first novel in the Winnie Zeng series inspired by Chinese mythology, and like Zhao’s debut series (The Dragon Warrior and its sequel, The Fallen Hero), it was a fun and delightful read with humor and heartwarming moments.

In Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend, our protagonist Winnie Zeng just wants to survive her first year of middle school while also wanting to outdo her archnemesis, David Zuo. The rivalry extends to their class bake sale, so Winnie comes up with a plan to make mooncakes, a delicacy traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. But not just any mooncakes (although, if you want my humble opinion, mooncakes are by default delicious): the mooncakes are a family recipe from her grandmother’s cookbook. Little does she know it’ll awaken the stuff of legends and the spirit of her dead grandmother. She quickly learns she must embrace her heritage as a shaman to save the chaos that’s about to unleash in her town and, ultimately, the world.

Like many of the characters in Zhao’s novels, Winnie Zeng spoke to me a lot as a character. Growing up as one of the few Asian Americans in classes (if not the only one), identity and embracing my culture was something that’s long been a struggle, from traditions that others found “odd” to food that others automatically thought of as “gross.” Winnie’s feelings of isolation, loneliness, pressure from her family despite her love for them, and like the second-best all struck a chord with me. I think younger me definitely would’ve appreciated this book a lot, or at the very least felt more validated in my experiences.

Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend was slightly disappointing compared to The Dragon Warrior; it felt like something was missing that I can’t put a finger on (beyond the rushed training Winnie seems to go through, thus resulting in a somewhat rushed ending). While this didn’t live up to the enjoyment of her past works as much as I hoped it would, I had a good time reading this, and I think that’s all that matters in the end. | Hannah Sophia Lin

Click here for more information and to read a brief excerpt of Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend, courtesy of Random House.

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