This novel reminded me why I love middle grade so much!!
I hadn’t read a middle grade novel in a while before picking up Pie In The Sky, but I’m so glad I decided to choose it as my first middle grade read of the year, because it was so amazing. I read it in just a few sittings, and it managed to make me laugh and tear up at the same time.
So today, I’m here to review and hopefully convince you all to pick up this highly underrated gem of a middle grade novel!
When eleven-year-old Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.
Told in prose and graphic novel elements, this middle-grade novel is about a boy’s immigration experience, his annoying little brother, and their cake-baking hijinks!
✧ Representation: Chinese mc and scs
✧ Trigger Warnings: bullying, brief mention of blood, past death of a parent
Before I read Pie In The Sky, I fully expected that it would be a cheery, lighthearted middle grade novel.
And as I began, I was easily swept into the story and found myself loving the way it was told through a mixture of prose and beautiful illustrations, so I thought my expectations would be correct. However, while Pie In The Sky was definitely easy to read, it ended up being so much more than a cute and fluffy novel, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Pie In The Sky follows Jingwen, an eleven-year-old boy who has just moved to Australia and is struggling with fitting in, as he does not know how to speak English. On top of that, Jingwen is still dealing with grief over the death of his father that occurred almost two years ago. Remy Lai has crafted Jingwen’s internal voice so wonderfully as an eleven-year-old who is struggling with his place in the world. There was never a moment where I was not rooting for him, as I could easily see his motivations and feelings on the page.
Has she forgotten Papa? I won’t. I will make all the pies. All the pies in the sky.
Some prominent side characters in Pie in the Sky are Jingwen’s mother and younger brother, and their family dynamic was written in such an amazing way. Jingwen’s interactions with his younger brother Yanghao were very fun to read, and as someone with a younger sibling, I loved how realistically their conversations played out! Jingwen and Yanghao argued and fought throughout the book, but at the heart of their relationship was a strong brotherly bond that I adored.
While this book had a great amount of heartwarming and funny scenes, it also discussed heavier topics such as grief and language barriers so well. As mentioned above, Jingwen deals with the grief he has been plunged into ever since his father passed away two years ago throughout the novel, and Remy Lai managed to depict that grief so carefully yet accurately. I could feel Jingwen’s sadness and regrets as if they were my own, and I definitely shed a few tears at a pivotal heartbreaking moment in the story. (Which was when I knew that I was going to love this, because it’s so rare that a book is able to move me to tears!)
It was also disheartening to read about Jingwen’s difficulties with understanding school and communicating with others, as he didn’t know English. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that discusses language barriers before this, but Remy Lai did an excellent job of portraying how out of place you can feel if you don’t understand anyone else or if you don’t have any way to convey your own words to others.
The way that Pie In The Sky unfolds is also very clever: it follows Jingwen and Yanghao as they make a dozen special cakes together. (I wouldn’t recommend reading this novel on an empty stomach, because the delicious descriptions definitely made me wish I had a raspberry torte or rainbow cake to bite into!)
Other than the mouth-watering aspect, though, there is something so personal and deep about these cakes: Jingwen feels that making them will help connect him to his father, who ran a cake business before he passed away. I will forever be in awe of how the author created a story with such powerful themes of belonging, closure, family and friendship simply based on this idea of two brothers reconnecting with themselves and learning to grow from the past through baking cakes.
In fact, at its heart, Pie in the Sky is truly a love letter to family, friendship, and cake, and I loved reading it. It was filled with beautifully written family relationships, heartbreakingly accurate portrayals of grief and language barriers, and characters you will grow to adore. If you’re looking for a comforting, gorgeously crafted middle grade novel that will make you laugh and cry, this is the one!