Like salted caramel, a perfect balance of flavors, this deftly drawn story is a heartfelt treat.

PIE IN THE SKY

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)

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31409-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat,...

EXILE

From the Keeper of the Lost Cities series , Vol. 2

Full-blown middle-volume-itis leaves this continuation of the tale of a teenage elf who has been genetically modified for so-far undisclosed purposes dead in the water.

As the page count burgeons, significant plot developments slow to a trickle. Thirteen-year-old Sophie manifests yet more magical powers while going head-to-head with hostile members of the Lost Cities Council and her own adoptive elvin father, Grady, over whether the clandestine Black Swan cabal, her apparent creators and (in the previous episode) kidnappers, are allies or enemies. Messenger tries to lighten the tone by dressing Sophie and her classmates at the Hogwarts-ian Foxfire Academy as mastodons for a silly opening ceremony and by having her care for an alicorn—a winged unicorn so magnificent that even its poop sparkles. It’s not enough; two sad memorial services, a trip to a dreary underground prison, a rash of adult characters succumbing to mental breakdowns and a frequently weepy protagonist who is increasingly shunned as “the girl who was taken” give the tale a soggy texture. Also, despite several cryptic clues and a late attack by hooded figures, neither the identity nor the agenda of the Black Swan comes closer to being revealed.

However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat, much less under way. (Fantasy 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4596-3

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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A work of heavy, realistic fiction told with oddball humor, honesty, and heart.

I'M OK

When Korean-American Ok Lee loses his father in a construction accident, he and his mom must fend for themselves financially while quietly grieving.

Middle schooler Ok watches as his mother takes on multiple jobs with long hours trying to make ends meet. Determined to help, he sets his sights on his school’s talent show. The winner takes home $100 in cash, enough to pay the utilities before they get cut off. His search to find a bankable talent is complicated by unwanted attention from bully Asa, who’s African-American, and blackmail at the hands of a strange classmate named Mickey, who’s white. To make matters worse, his mother starts dating Deacon Koh, “the lonely widower” of the First Korean Full Gospel Church, who seems to have dubious motives and “tries too hard.” Narrator Ok navigates this full plot with quirky humor that borders on dark at times. His feelings and actions dealing with his grief are authentic. Most of the characters take a surprising turn, in one way or another helping Ok despite initial, somewhat stereotypical introductions and abundant teasing with racial jokes. Although most of the characters go through a transformation, Ok’s father in comparison is not as fleshed-out, and Asa’s African-American Vernacular English occasionally feels repetitive and forced.

A work of heavy, realistic fiction told with oddball humor, honesty, and heart. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1929-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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