‘Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies’ by Stacey Lee: A classic Chinese folktale reimagined for a new audience

Our Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies book review tackles the latest out of Rick Riordan Presents, which focuses on the Chinese story of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.

Every Rick Riordan Presents book is an exciting new adventure, and as I continue reading the stories that come out of this imprint, I learn more and more about other cultures and their mythologies. As familiar as I am with Greek/Roman, Egyptian, Norse, and even Hindu mythology, I’m lacking in plenty of others.

In Winston Chu, Stacey Lee presents a story I’m wholly unfamiliar with—that of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl. In her book, the characters of the Cowherd and Cloud Weaver are pulled from their mythological origins and placed in a modern setting, allowing kids (and adults!) to better relate to this classic tale.

Winston is like a lot of other kids—he loves to skateboard, he’s got a group of best friends he plays soccer with, and he can barely contain his crush on a girl in his class named Dani.

In fact, one of the highlights of this book is Lee’s ability to capture the spirit of a 12-year-old kid. The other books in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint all do a fantastic job, but Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies highlights how random and strange children can be at this age. They make up codewords. They find ways to trick their parents into thinking they’re in one place when they’re really in another. They’re obsessed with a zombie video game. Losing a soccer match feels like the end of the world until you actually have to face the end of the world.

But more than that, Winston and his friends share a close bond that isn’t always perfect. Sometimes there’s miscommunication that leads to disaster. Sometimes they fight—verbally and physically. Sometimes they’re jealous and angry and hurt and embarrassed. Winston and his friends go through a myriad of emotions throughout this book, and none of them seem forced or out of the blue.

In fact, Winston must deal with a lot over the course of several days in which this story takes place. Since his dad died, there’s been a hole in the family where he used to be. His mom is struggling to take care of three kids, and Winston’s big sister Phillipa has been moodier than usual. Three-year-old Coco doesn’t quite understand what happened, but when her spirit is switched with that of a changeling’s, it feels like just another thing added to a pile he already can’t handle.

winston chu vs. the whimsies book review

I felt for Winston throughout this entire book. Though he had his friends by his side, it was hard to watch him struggle to make his mother and sister believe something was wrong with Coco, while still dealing with the absence of his father. All of Winston’s emotions—from the sadness to the anger—are completely valid, and it was truly inspirational to see the author tackle such a big, profound story in a children’s book. Loss is a part of life, and I’m glad Lee talked about this issue head-on without fear that it might be too much for a kid to read about.

While Coco being spirit-snatched is the driving force behind the story, there’s a lot more going on throughout the book, including Winston receiving a magical broom and dustpan from Mr. Pang’s Whimsies. It might not be the gift he wanted, but it opens the door to an entire new world he had no idea existed.

If you take nothing else away from this Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies book review, know that Stacey Lee’s imagination is top-tier. Each one of Mr. Pang’s whimsies has a clever name and a truly inspired magical property. I think my favorite was either the fire-weiler (a fire hydrant/Rottweiler hybrid) or the unicorn piñatas, which you’ll have to see to believe.

Mr. Pang’s shop opens up a whole new avenue to Winston and his friends, where each whimsy could either be a tool used to aid them or distract them from their ultimate goal. All of them are fun and clever and even a little scary at times, but they’re also full of a magic I’m dying to explore further.

Lee plants each detail in Winston Chu with care, and doesn’t forget to go back to every single one of them in order to provide us with a satisfying ending to this book. I loved all of the full-circle moments, as well as the way she wrapped up all the threads she had exposed in the beginning.

This might be a good point in my Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies book review to point out that this is not a standalone novel. While the story with Winston’s sister Coco is wrapped up neatly by the end, the overarching plot leaves us hanging precariously from the edge of a cliff. Mr. Pang has a lot more to reveal, and I’m so excited to see what’s next in the Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies sequel. Something tells me it’ll be even more magical than this one!

‘Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies’ published on February 7, 2023

Buy Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies by Stacey Lee from Disney, Bookshop.org, Book Depository, or Amazon. You can also add it to your Goodreads list.

If you enjoyed this Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies book review, look for more recommendations on our books page.