It is the beginning of sixth grade, and Winnie Zeng is determined to do her best to succeed in her myriad endeavors and make her family proud. But when her intellectual nemesis David appears in the halls of her new school and people begin making fun of her because of the food she brings for lunch, Winnie wonders if she is up to the challenge. If only she could be like the superheroes in the manga and anime stories she enjoys so much… A class bake sale inspires Winnie to explore some of her family's treasured recipes, which leads her to a very special book tucked beneath several others in the kitchen. Unbeknownst to Winnie, the choice to use this cookbook will link her to her family in more ways than she expects, and surviving middle school will quickly become the least of her problems.
This fast-paced middle grade story explores many of the complicated feelings and events inherent to middle school amidst the excitement of supernatural powers and Chinese legends. As part of a Chinese-American family, Winnie straddles two cultures throughout this story. Attending both American and Chinese school is only one piece of the equation, though; she must also balance American and Chinese cuisine alongside western and eastern folkloric traditions. Additionally, she feels suffocated by the high expectations placed upon her by her family, especially as she is often compared to others in her vicinity who are more successful than she is. These many feelings come to light throughout the novel, and Winnie attempts to work through each of them while beginning to come to terms with who she truly wants to be.
Fans of folklore and superheroes will fall for Winnie and her spirit from the first pages of the book. She is not perfect, but she is always working hard for what she wants. References to video games, manga, anime, and pop culture appear throughout the book, grounding readers to reality as Winnie's story takes on a supernatural twist. The legend of Hou Yi and Chang E is likewise woven into this story, which is enjoyable for anyone who is familiar with Chinese legends or has seen Over the Moon. And, as food is such a strong element of this story, recipes for two treats described in the book are found at the end for readers to try on their own. This is a stunning overture to the Winnie Zeng series, and it is a delightful inclusion to libraries for middle grade readers.
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