Book Reviews

Review: Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Katie Zhao

Katie Zhao is an auto-buy author. So you know I had to read Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend. And it’s a slam dunk! This middle grade fantasy is a touching story about bravery, family expectations, and magic. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.


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.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

TW: racism

I adored Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend on so many different levels. First of all, I related to the ways in which both Winnie and her sister Lisa struggle with their identity. How their differences are always at the forefront. Whether it be a packed lunch or family pressures, there’s this distinct feeling that’s difficult to put into words. My heart broke for Winnie and the cruelties born from ignorance that kids perpetuate.

Secondly, the feeling of Winnie of never being good enough? Knife to the heart. Not only does this fuel a rivalry, but it means that she feels like she will never measure up. That she will have to choose between being true to herself and fulfilling the expectations of others. Thirdly, the sister relationship was an element I wasn’t expecting, but one I enjoyed. I have a thing for complex sister relationships, and this interaction between them and their perceptions of who’s the golden child resonated hard.

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And lastly, the magical world building was fantastic. Zhao is a true master at this mix between fantasy, school dynamics, and middle grade. All of her middle grades have been home runs. There were so many clever references and touches. All in all, Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend fulfilled my extremely high expectations. It’s precious and action packed – a story about family, spirits, and expectations. Perfect for middle grade readers! Find Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.


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