Two brothers navigate a new country, a new language, and grief through cake.
In this graphic/prose hybrid novel, 12-year-old Jingwen, his little brother, Yanghao, and their mother immigrate to Australia. The family is Chinese, though their home country is never specified. The boys start at the Northbridge Primary School not knowing any English, which has Jingwen feeling they have just arrived on Mars. Quickly he realizes it is he and Yanghao who must appear to be the Martians to everyone else, comically literalized with pictures of a four-eyed, antennae’d Jingwen. While Yanghao quickly picks up English, Jingwen resists, struggling in lessons and to make friends. Piece by piece readers learn it was Jingwen’s father’s dream to open a cake shop called Pie in the Sky in Australia before he suddenly passed away. After finding the family’s cookbook, the boys decide to secretly bake all the Pie in the Sky cakes. Jingwen especially takes it to heart, pouring his grief and frustrations into every frosted layer, believing that it “will fix everything.” Herself an immigrant to Australia from Singapore, Lai unfolds the story like a memory, giving brief flashbacks interspersed throughout the daily musings and nuanced relationships among family members. Jingwen’s emotional journey is grounded in honest reality; it ebbs and flows naturally with strategic spots of humor to lighten the overall tone.
Like salted caramel, a perfect balance of flavors, this deftly drawn story is a heartfelt treat. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 10-13)