Review: Pie In The Sky
It’s hard to refrain from baking puns when reflecting on Jingwen’s story. I blame Lai. She has given the new-kid-in-a-new-country-in-a-new-school-finding-it-impossible-to-fit-in storyline a deliciously original twist by blending winsome characters into emotionally and physically charged situations involving frequent cake making. Honestly, there is more elaborate baking in this book than an entire season of Master Chef.
Almost twelve Jingwen and his younger brother, Janghao along with their recently widowed Mama move to Australia to pursue a better life and their Papa’s dream of operating their own bakery, Pie in the Sky. Severely hampered by his lack of English and feelings of alienation, Jingwen might as well be living on Mars. He can’t understand how his sassy younger brother assimilates so rapidly, making friends easily and learning English almost overnight.
While their mother works nightshifts at the local bakery to provide for their new life, Jingwen is responsible for Janghao’s wellbeing. This responsibility weighs heavily on Jingwen who two years after his father’s tragic death, is still grieving and burdened with ‘seashells’ of guilt, loneliness, regret, and heartache.
Emotional turmoil and inability to communicate thwart Jingwen’s learning and friend making, thrusting him ever deeper into a morose slurry of despair.
Jingwen’s filial loyalty is further tested when he begins making cakes to assuage his ill feelings and his brother’s pestering. Cakes are magic. Jingwen’s belief in their power to ‘make everything better’ is so absolute, it causes him to conduct their clandestine cake making under a thickening layer of lies, defended by an ever-growing list of Rules. He convinces himself that he must make the full gamut of gourmet fancy Pie in the Sky Cakes, to satisfy the whims of the deities and universe and thus restore his happiness. As Jingwen becomes more adept at baking (a cake every night), the joy this produces sates him, although he soon becomes bloated not only by the glut of illicit cake but also from the fear of failing his beloved Papa.
Pie in the Sky is the type of story adults will appreciate and weep over (I teared up several times) while simultaneously causing nine-year-olds to hoot with laughter. Humour and hijinks flavour this rich narrative about friendship, new beginnings, belonging, cultural divides, loss, and misunderstandings, providing the perfect balance of sentimentality and comedy without an ounce of cloyingness.
The generous helping of two-tone line drawings by Lai that depict every goofy, touching moment of Jingwen’s new world adjustment promote fun and page turning which will ultimately entice reluctant readers to taste this for themselves.
This book includes many things that animate my reading palate not least of which are the multiple cake varieties and le Petite Prince (The Little Prince) references. It is a story that examines brotherly love and broken hearts layer by layer then slathers it all with scrumptious messy globs of butter cream; the kind that glues dreams altogether.
Sink your teeth into it as soon as you can.
Title: Pie In The Sky
Author / Illustrator: Remy Lai
Publisher: Walker Books, $18.99
Publication Date: June 2019
For ages: 8 - 12
Type: Middle Grade Fiction
Buy the Book: Walker Books Australia, Boomerang Books