Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Winston Chu and the Whimsies

Lee, Stacey. Winston Chu and the Whimsies
February 7th 2023 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Winston and his friends are taking home a pie (on a skateboard) that they have baked in a cooking class when things go badly wrong. The pie is ruined, which Winston had wanted to take home to his mother and sisters Coco and Phillipa to commemorate his father. It landed on two beefy guys hanging outside a shop, Mr. Pang's Whimsies. Mr. Pang greats Winston and his friends and invites them into his shop. They are a little apprehensive, but go in. In thanks for foiling what he suspected would be a robbery, Mr. Pang offers Winston the first thing he touches. There is a lot of strange merchandise in the store, but when a bird flies in and is caught behind a table, Winston takes a broom from the shop to help it out. This means the broom is his, and while his friends complain, Winston graciously accepts bother the broom and a dustpan, and thanks Mr. Pang. Shortly after, things begin to go missing. They are small things at first, like a key chain or stuffed animal, but when Winston's goldfish goes missing, he has his friends help him get rid of the broom. It's not enough, though, and the broom reappears sevearl times, and eventually takes away his young sister Coco, leaving an odd doppelganger. He tries to tell his older sister Philippa, but she's worried about her job at Waffle Fury and doesn't believe him. His mother is also trying to find a job. The school year has started as well, so Winston is worried about many things at school while believing that something is terribly wrong with Coco. His friends, including Cassa, Bijal, and the wealthy Maverick, try to help him figure out what's going on. The broom and dustpan are tied to characters in the ancient Chinese story, "The Cowherd and the Cloud Weaver", and Coco's spirit has indeed been taken. With his friends' and sister's help, Winston must figure out who Mr. Pang is, how he's using his magical implements, and why he has taken Coco, in order to get her back. 
Strengths: This reminded me a bit of Whitesides' 2011 Janitors, with the modern setting and the magic that seeps into daily life. That series has been very popular with some of my students. It also has some similarities with Oh's Spirit Hunters, also a strong circulator. The magical elements were amusing (like the Mustache of Mischief), and were woven into the story in a believable way. I would have been perfectly fine to read just about the Chu's family life, because Winston's flirtation with Dani was great fun, especially when he claimed he could play the ukelele. He even convinces a friend to help him learn to play The Rainbow Connection so he could keep up the lie! 
Weaknesses: It would have been nice to know more details about the Cowherd and the Cloud Weaver, and how they were connected to Mr. Pang. While "Whimsies" figure largely in the title, it wasn't a term used much in the story, which was a little confusing. While it was all tied together nicely, there was a lot going on in this book, and a lot of characters to keep track of. Ms. Lee usually writes Young Adult novels like Luck of the Titanic and Outrun the Moon, so the length and complexity are in keeping with that age group while the humor and magical realism are definitely more middle grade. 
What I really think: There are several culturally connected fantasy books where siblings are abducted by magical creatures and must be retrieved, like Lee's Pahua and the Soul Stealer , Kim's The Last Fallen Star, C√≥rdova's 2020 The Way to Rio Luna and Riazi's 2017 The Gauntlet. Winston's adventures were well written, but I may pass on this one, as I already have a lot of similar titles, and at over 350 pages, this might be a hard sell in my library right now. 

Ms. Yingling

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