Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai – An Unexpected, Emotional, and Charming Middle Grade About Family, Immigrating, Grief, and CAKE!

Text: pie in the sky by remy lai. image: a shorter asian boy with a short buzzcut holds a pie to his mouth, about to eat it. a taller boy with longer hair, looks at him at the corner of his eye.

This time when you visit the Pond, the air smells… sweet? You follow your nose, and find Xiaolong by an… an oven? (You’re sure it wasn’t there before!)

XL pieinsky 1.pngWhen you call out to her, she turns around holding a bowl in one hand and whisking vigorously with her other.

“Hello friend!” she greets. “I just read this amazing book, which included a recipe! Isn’t that amazing? So I decided to bake this cake for you so we had afternoon tea while we talked about it, but it’s taking a big longer than I thought.”

When you offer to help her, she magics you an apron – just so you won’t get your clothes all dirty! You follow her instructions – you sift the flour, you add the water, you crack the eggs over, and she even lets you add the colouring too!

An illustration of a rainbow cake on a plate.After the cake is done, you wait next to the oven, both you and Xiaolong giddy and excited for the cake to be finished. When the cake is finally done, Xiaolong magics it out of the oven – so none of you will get burnt! – and she gives you a slice.

“Well, now that we all have some food to eat,” says Xiaolong, helping herself to a slice as well, “let me tell you about an amazing book that I read, friend. It’s called Pie in the Sky…”

Blurb:

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.

CW’s review:

I received a review copy from the author. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

When I discovered Pie in the Sky by chance and listed it as one of the books I was most excited to read in 2019, I had no idea – no idea – that I was about to read one of my favourite books ever. I say this with absolute honesty and with my whole heart: I thank all the stars in the sky, the fabric of the universe, and the chaos of life for aligning and allowing me to cross paths with Remy, the author of Pie in the Sky, who gave me an advanced reader’s copy of her incredible quiet book.

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Internment by Samira Ahmed – Incisive, Deliberate, and Unforgettable

Text: Internment, Samira Ahmed. Image: A brown girl wearing a black cap with the word 'RESIST', her face partially concealed by her long hair. An illustration of a barbed wire stone fence is imposed on her shirt
Blurb:

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Joce’s Review:

Samira Ahmed’s INTERNMENT is both dystopian and contemporary, transporting readers into a terrifying alternate reality. One day, suddenly, Layla Amin’s home is stormed and her family is forcibly removed and placed in an internment camp for Muslim-American citizens. There, she forms friendships and alliances in a rebellion, hopeful for freedom. With each act of resistance against the Director and his guards, Layla and her companions become more calculated but also more frantic. They struggle to balance hope with powerlessness, two hugely polarized extremes. No one knows who to trust, and all dialogue feels tense.

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Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds – A Movie-Ready John Green-esque Novel

Text: Opposite of Always, Justin A Reynolds. Image: A black male teen (left), sits across the stairs from a black female teen with natural hair. Above the stairs are the same teens, their legs pressed against each other, the image cut off above their knees.

Blurb:

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.

Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

Joce’s Review:

OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS presents the burning questions of many time travel loop novels: If you had the power to change the past, would you, and how? Jack King took me along his journey through time, revisiting the same incidents again and again, beginning at a party where he meets Kate on the stairs and they share a bowl of cereal. From there, he wrestles with friendships, family relationships, and self-care, and the time loop ends and rewinds upon Kate’s death, totaling a six month span each round.

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The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – You’ve Heard That This Book is Amazing; You’ve Heard Right

Text: The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo.

When I shared that I was going to be reading The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such uniform choruses of praise and excitement and enthusiasm. So many of my reader and blogging friends, regardless of their distinct reading niche, tastes, and preferences, all agreed on one thing: The Poet X was an incredible book, was absolutely loved, and a favourite among many.

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Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed – A Candid and Eye-Opening Story about the Extremities of Forced Arranged Marriages

Text: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed. Image: A brown girl with long dark hair wearing a simple brown and black salwar kameez, looking up into the dark blue night sky.
Blurb:

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

My review:

Note: my review will discuss forced marriages.

I like to think that I have read a lot of books – books that have made me feel an array of things, including shock, anger, and pain. However, Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed may just be one of the most difficult and heart-rending books that I have ever read. It tells the story of Naila, a Pakistani-American teen who, after her parents discover that she has a boyfriend despite their rules against this, is whisked off away to Pakistan for, what is initially assumed to be, a holiday and an opportunity for Naila to connect to her roots and culture – but turns out to be a trip that will change her life forever. Despite that reading this book was incredibly tough for me, this book is so important and should absolutely be read by everyone.

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