Book Review: Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
Review by Kamryn Kronschnabel, Patron Service Librarian
Loss, culture shock, cakes, and the dream that ties it all together – these are the cornerstone themes of this year’s All Iowa Reads book for children, Remy Lai’s debut titled Pie in the Sky.
The story is told from the perspective of Jingwen, an eleven-year-old who immigrates with his mother and younger brother, Yanghao, from China to Australia. Missing from their lives is their father, who’d died before the book begins, but Jingwen has goals to live out his father’s dream: to run a bakery called Pie in the Sky, where their family can sell amazing cakes. But before the brothers can accomplish this – they are eleven and nine, to be fair – they first must go to school, learn to speak English, and (most importantly) keep their after-school oven usage a secret from their mother.
Throughout the story, Lai uses pictures intermittently to drive home concepts in ways that words alone can’t – particularly impactful are the strange, nonsensical scripts she places in speech bubbles to represent English, a language all around the brothers that still escapes their understanding. Alien creatures are also a common theme, as the Australians all around them may as well be extra terrestrials to the brothers… or that the brothers may as well be aliens to the people around them. Sometimes Jingwen imagines he loses a set of eyeballs when he says a simple “Hi” to his classmates, but sometimes he looks in the mirror and sees an alien who’ll never acclimate to the foreign culture around him.
He and Yanghao process these difficult feelings by secretly baking cakes in the evenings, while their mother is at work. Cake-baking is a catharsis Jingwen desperately needs, since it fills the void their father’s death created in his life and helps him cope with the culture shock and lack of friends in their new home. But they must be careful – their mother has forbidden them from using the oven without her presence in the kitchen, and together the brothers must come up with creative ways to hide the ingredients, the leftovers, and the cakes gone wrong. It’s these moments when the characters come alive: Yanghao may call Jingwen a booger all the time, but their relationship as siblings is nothing if not realistic. Jingwen’s struggles and the meaning baking has in his life are both heartwarming and heartbreaking as he navigates life in a new country without his father, and it’s not hard to see why Lai’s book was selected as an All Iowa Reads title.
Pie in the Sky is available for checkout at the Charles City Public Library. Call ahead and reserve it today!