The Rusty Key's Reviews > Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Feb 02, 11

really liked it

Reviewed by Rusty Key Writer: Jordan B. Nielsen

Recommended for: Girls, aged 8 and Up. Though surely appealing to everyone, this story will be particularly relatable to Korean-American, Asian-American, or any first-generation American kids with strong cultural backgrounds.

One Word Summary: Splendid.

Sweet without being syrupy, Jenny Han delivers a book for younger readers with the same relatable, honest, unadorned narrative voice found in her works for teens. With seemingly no difficulty at all, Han seizes upon the most heartfelt aspirations of her characters and imprints them upon the reader so that you feel your own life’s happiness will surely slip right down the drain if little Clara Lee doesn’t win the ‘Little Miss Apple Pie’ contest.

Clara Lee had never really thought of herself as being that different. She and her family are Korean-American, upholding many of her culture’s traditions in their home, but in every other way, Clara is just like the other kids at school: She has some good friends, classes she likes, classes she doesn’t, and she loves her town, particularly in its autumnal splendor. Each year the town celebrates fall with the ‘Apple Blossom Festival’, capped off with a parade. The crowning jewel of the parade is the Miss Apple Pie float. A girl is selected from the local high school to reign as ‘Miss Apple Pie’, while another girl is selected from Clara’s elementary school to take the title of ‘Little Miss Apple Pie’. Both get to wear fancy red dresses and tiaras and wave to the adoring crowds from atop their own float. Clara has been dreaming of becoming ‘Little Miss Apple Pie’ for years, and has just about worked up the courage to try out, which involves delivering a speech to her whole school on why she loves her town. But shortly before the competition, Clara’s top rival for the crown points out that Little Miss Apple Pie is the pinnacle of Americanhood; as the saying goes, ‘American as Apple Pie’. The blondehaired blue-eyed winners of the past have reflected that sentiment. And, as the snooty little witch all but blatantly says, her own family are real Americans, having lived here for generations, whereas Clara is practically just off the boat by comparison. Clara is left to wonder what it really means to be an American, and if her dearest dreams are about to be dashed because of who she is.

The message of the story is perfectly balanced against the charming characters and strong writing so that it doesn’t feel like a book that’s trying to make a point. Clara’s relationship with her grandfather is the lynchpin that the story revolves around, and all the nuances of their dynamic make it both real and endearing. Han’s protagonists are never perfect: quite often they’re stubborn or brash or occasionally insensitive, and that quality in Han’s writing is to be applauded. They aren’t role models because they always say and do the right thing, they’re role models because, like the reader, they’re human, and prone to making big mistakes. It’s this touch that makes her stories so powerful, and with Clara Lee, Han now has books for every phase of a girl’s life, from elementary school right up to college.

For more reviews from The Rusty Key, visit us at

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.