April 28, 2023

REVIEW Winston Chu vs the Whimsies by Stacey Lee

Winston Chu vs the Whimsies by Stacey Lee
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: February 7, 2023
Format: Audiobook (Bought from Libro.fm)
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents 

Stacey Lee’s Winston Chu vs the Whimsies, one of the most recent releases from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, takes readers on a magical journey of a modern take on Chinese culture and folktales. The title is perfect for the book, and I love how lighthearted and whimsical (pun intended) the book is. 

On paper, Winston is living a good life. He’s surrounded by his family as well as a loyal circle of friends. However, he’s struggled to come to terms with the death of his army veteran father, and he’s unable to move on even though it seems everyone else has. One day, when he stumbles across a unique oddities shop ‘Mr. Pang’s Whimsies’, the owner offers Winston the chance to take home one item (as long as it's the first thing he touches). Instead of something cool like the ‘Kick Me Boots’, a floating canoe, or a magical ukulele, an accident leaves Winston sent home with a seemingly ordinary broom and dustpan set (which is definitely not the two for one deal the average teenager hopes to get). As soon as Winston gets home, however, he realizes that there’s more than meets the eye to his parting gifts as things start to disappear from his house, escalating all the way up to the disappearance of his little sister (who’s been body swapped with a former inhabitant from the store). 

There’s so much detail packed into this book, it was fun to get to experience things alongside Winston and his friends. There’s a bucket load of snark and humor and very quotable one-liners to be had. I admittedly wasn’t familiar with the mythological stories and references that the book was centered around, but I felt that the author includes enough context to make it easy to understand what was going on. Ms. Lee also includes some cultural references, like the principles of feng shui and qi. Winston Chu vs the Whimsies is unlike the other books in the imprint, with magical items running amuck instead of gods or monsters, but it worked out well and I can tell the author had fun coming up with all the different whimsies featured in the book. 

While the book has a lighthearted playfulness to it, there’s also some more somber notes to the story. Throughout the book, Winston struggles with the death of his father. To him, it seems like he’s the only one going through it but over the course of the book he realizes that everyone else has stuff going on as well (even if it’s not as obvious). I think this could be a great resource for anyone going through grief, no matter their age, to realize they are not alone. 

I really enjoyed this book, and I appreciated the temporary escape with all the heavier stuff going on in the world right now. Audiobook narrator Brian McCormick did an excellent job bringing the book to life. It’s unclear whether this is meant to be standalone or part of a larger series (I would guess standalone), but I think the ending of the book would allow it to work either way. No matter what, I’m excited to read more of Stacey Lee’s books in the future! 

About the Book
Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents best-selling author Stacey Lee's modern reimagining of a classic Chinese folktale—replete with magic, boba, and lots of trash talking.

Twelve-year-old Winston Chu is supposed to learn impulse control at the cooking academy his mom enrolled him in. But learning to think before he acts won’t happen overnight.

While skateboarding home with a pie in hand, Winston inadvertently stops a robbery at Mr. Pang’s Whimsies, an oddities shop in Chinatown. As a reward, Mr. Pang invites Winston to choose any item in the store. But the strange old man warns Winston to browse carefully, for the first thing Winston touches will be the thing he gets. Before Winston can decide, a magpie flies under a shelf, and he impulsively grabs an old broom to sweep it out.

Mr. Pang hands him the broom, along with a dustpan. “Two for one. Congratulations.”

Deflated, Winston returns home, determined to put the broom incident behind him. Or at least in the closet. But when some of his most beloved possessions go missing, all Winston can think about are the broom and dustpan. Did they somehow take his stuff? And what—or who—will they dispose of next?

It’s time to break into Mr. Pang’s Whimsies, where clearly there’s more going on than meets the far-seeing eyeball. It’s time to fight magic with magic. And this time, Winston better have a plan. 

About the Author

Stacey Lee is the New York Times and Indie bestselling author of historical and contemporary young adult fiction, including THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL, Reese's Book Club Late Summer 2021 YA pick, and her most recent, LUCK OF THE TITANIC which received five starred reviews. A native of southern California and fourth-generation Chinese American, she is a founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement and writes stories for all kids (even the ones who look like adults). 

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