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Pie in the Sky

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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!

385 pages

First published May 14, 2019

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Remy Lai

14 books172 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 523 reviews
Profile Image for CW ✨.
644 reviews1,695 followers
May 7, 2019
My full review can be found in my blog, The Quiet Pond.

There are books that I love -- and there are books, like Pie in the Sky, that stay in my heart forever. I loved this book so so much - prepare for me to YELL about this book.

- A MG novel filled with gorgeous illustrations by Lai herself!
- It follows two Chinese brothers who move to Australia with their mother, and how Jingwen, the older brother, navigates the challenges of moving to a new place.
- This story explores immigration, assimilation, language barriers (and how they affect kids Jingwen vs his little brother's age), and also grief.
- Though this book made me laugh to myself for its sweet and wholesome narrative, there were also parts that HIT ME IN THE FEELS. I tear up just thinking about it.
- I just... I felt this book so deeply. I love it with my whole heart. This is up there as one of my favourite MG books ever.

Trigger/content warning:
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,754 followers
February 26, 2019
This year, I stumbled into an unexpected pattern. Though I didn’t quite mean to, I ended up reading a whole slew of middle grade novels that were funny. I’m not avoiding the serious stuff, but through a series of unlikely events I found myself diving deep into funny book after funny book. Now a hilarious novel for children can go one of two ways. It can be simply amusing for the sake of amusement, making no attempt at being meaningful in any way. I have a grudging respect for these books, since I think it’s a lot harder to get them published in today’s market. The publishing world of the early 21st century has little tolerance for meaningless whimsy. Far more common, then, are the books that look funny and then, when you least expect it, hit you in the gut with – BAM! - Pathos!! It’s not a bad way to go about things, if the writing can pull off the switch. Pin in the Sky is by all accounts a debut, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. Gracefully switching between text and comics, comics and text, author Remy Lai feeds breadcrumbs (or, more accurately, cake crumbs) of humor and sequential art to kids, luring them towards a storyline with a deeper, darker meaning. For the kid that avoids serious stories like the plague, Pie in the Sky is the perfect gateway drug. There’s a whole lotta sad going on here, and a whole lotta humor as well. The end result is a balancing act that will keep you absorbed and reading until the end.

Some kids love sports and some love reading and others love dance or games. Jingwen loves cake. Sort of makes sense. His grandparents run a cake shop and his dad was always making cakes before he died. In fact, his dad was even going to start his own fancy cake shop called Pie in the Sky where he and Jingwen would make things like chocolate raspberry tortes, Neapolitan mousse cake, apple mille-feuille, and more. Now Jingwen has moved to Australia with his mom and annoying little brother Yanghao. He doesn’t speak the language. He doesn’t have any friends. And there’s something about his dad’s death that’s weighing him down, like having heavy seashells in your pockets. The only thing Jingwen can think to do is to try and bake every single one of the cakes his father was going to make for Pie in the Sky. The trouble? His mom has forbidden him from using the stove while she’s away, and she’s away all the time! Now, faced with being moved back a grade if he doesn’t improve in school, Jingwen dedicates himself heart and soul to cake baking. But when your problems have nothing to do with pastries, how do you finally come to realize what’s really important?

The thing about Pie in the Sky is that it’s technically playing fair right from the very start. Though the reveal that the dad is dead doesn’t happen until you’re already a couple chapters in (and by then you’re hooked) it’s early enough that it doesn’t feel like the author has pulled a weird tonal switcheroo on you. But let’s examine the book’s first chapter. You can tell a lot about a book by its first chapter. If, for example, Lai set this book up as some happy-go-lucky spree, you might feel betrayed later on when things get bleak. But from the get-go we understand instantly that (1) Jingwen and his immediate family have left their home to move to Australia (2) Not everyone from home came along (3) Yanghao is annoying and hilarious (4) As indicated by the thoroughly smashed cake, this story is going to be an interesting combination of awkward, sad, and funny all at once. All this in one chapter where the text is routinely punctuated with comic-style art.

Recently I’ve become more and more interested in middle grade novels where bullying isn’t the stereotypical jock/mean girl/clique set of tropes that kids, by now, have internalized. Put simply, that stuff is boring. Saturday morning cartoon boring. If you’re going to have a character feel bullied in some way, let it come from nice kids. Because being hurt by a mean kid isn’t fun, but you can write that person off as mean. Getting hurt by a nice kid? A million times worse. In Pie in the Sky no one ever walks up to Jingwen to say something mean to him. But more than once he overhears a classmate and is able to understand just enough to know (or think) that they’re talking about him. Even then, what they’re saying is that he’s “slow”, particularly when it comes to speaking English. Not the worst insult, but it just kills him. You get this amazing moment when Jingwen (who’s been picturing himself as an alien ever since he arrived in Australia) looking in the bathroom mirror to find that because of their words he sees himself as more monstrous and grotesque rather than less (a trope that sort of peters out at the end, but oh well). Later, when he runs into those kids, one will just run away rather than deal with what he said. There’s a lot of truth to that, and it sure as heck beats watching someone get stuffed in a locker.

As I read Pie in the Sky I noticed that Lai uses a specific technique in the book that feels familiar. The more I read, the more I felt that she was referencing Shaun Tan’s The Arrival on some level. It makes sense. Both Lai and Tan live in Australia. Both have firsthand knowledge of the immigrant experience, whether it’s their own or their parents. So when Lai depicts the English language as an alien series of indecipherable pictograms, I was reminded of how Tan did something similar in his books by cutting up English letters and rearranging them into unfamiliar (but beautiful) patterns. Another book, Here I Am by Patti Kim features art by Sonia Sánchez that is “wordless” by also making the English words impossible to read on the page. And, like Pie in the Sky, it’s about a child coming to a new country and new classroom, far from everything that’s ever felt familiar. Three books on a similar theme, one a graphic novel, one a picture book, and one an illustrated novel. Together they equal necessary purchases for your home or public library.

So let’s talk a bit about Lai’s comics. First off, can I tell you how freakin’ thrilled I was when I found out Lai was a woman? I love two things in this world (possibly more, but for the purposes of this sentence we’re sticking with two): Funny female writers and female comic artists. To get both in one book blows my furry little mind. I mean, I was pretty much in Lai’s pocket from the first page onward. Wanna know how she hooked me? It was Yanghao. I think writers of middle grade everywhere could learn a lot from the creation of Yanghao. Loads and loads of novels are written every year on deeply sad, depressing topics. I mean, this book is dealing with grief and guilt and culture shock and immigration and more. It could bog down even the most valiant reader if not for Yanghao, that little jolt of joy. Is he annoying? Let’s just say I have never encounter a book for kids that used the word “Booger” as often as this one does (and I include William Joyce’s Billy’s Booger in that statement). But Yanghao is also honestly funny. Literally the first thing he does in the book is say on the airplane to his brother, holding up a barf bag with evident glee, “Jingwen! Jingwen! I’m puking in this bag!” I mean, right there, I was his.

Funny then? Check. But then there’s just the fact that Lai is a really good artist. You notice this in a lot of little ways. Consider the moment when Yanghao, right at the beginning of the book, drops the rainbow cake from home (which, by the way, a clever book group would point out ties in perfectly with the baking of the rainbow cake at the end of the book). First you have on the left-hand page Yanghao’s enormous hands reaching towards you as he says, “Letmeholdthecake!” Then, on the opposite page, Lai cuts the image into two parts. A panel at the top, laid over the image beneath, shows the brothers looking down. Yanghao’s left hand is open in this funny little position. You know that moment when you’ve caused an accident and you just pause there, as if by holding still you can undo what you did? The smashed cake diagram that makes up the bottom-half of the page is, in and of itself, a work of beauty. Arrows indicate each color with wonderfully precise yet descriptive language. “Cat-Tongue Pink.” “Fire Orange.” “Snowy Cream.” It’s this mocking combination of the beauty of the internal layers, contrasted with the smashy smashyness of it all on the ground. And that’s just two pages! Somehow Lai was able to put that level of commitment and detail into the whole dang book! All 380 pages of it. Do you see now why I was so floored (pardon the pun)?

The inevitable question I ask myself in a review of this type is whether or not there was anything in this book I would have liked to be a bit different. I guess. For example, I understand why Lai felt it necessary to never say what country Jingwen and Yanghao are leaving. If you fail to mention their point of origin then their story becomes a little more universal, right? I dunno, though. There’s a lot to be gained in specificity. We know that in interviews Ms. Lai has said that she borrowed elements of this tale from her own childhood, like the fact that she learned English when she was nine. We also know that she was born in Indonesia, grew up in Singapore, and now lives in Brisbane, Australia. As an adult I wanted the details of where exactly Jingwen and Yanghao were from, but the more I thought about it the more I took stock. Think of it from a kid’s point of view. To what degree are they going to care about where the brothers are coming from? Does it really matter in the course of the story? I remain undecided with this decision. I think I’ll just hand the book to kids and see if they ever mention it.

Not every sad book for kids has to be leavened with humor and wit. Not every book needs to be filled with an array of luscious, yummy cakes. And not every illustrated novel has to be this good. But it helps. Consider this the easiest book to booktalk in the world. You play up the cakes, show the kids the cartoons, and voila! They’re instantly reading a story about the complications that come with family love and communication, letting go, not just of the people we love, but the guilt we’ve tied to their memories, and how much bravery it takes to admit when we’re wrong. That’s a whole lot of serious stuff for such a blithely funny work of fiction. If this is what Remy Lai's got going on straight out of the gate, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. Even if it doesn’t involve cake.

For ages 9-12.
Profile Image for Rajani LaRocca.
Author 21 books442 followers
May 4, 2018
I was lucky enough to read this book before it was published...what a hilarious, poignent, GORGEOUS middle grade book! The feeling of being in a strange alien world, and then realizing YOU'RE the alien, will be familiar to every kid, immigrant or not, because that's part of growing up. I didn't see the fully illustrated product -- will add to this review when I do! But Remy Lai is insanely talented, and has a gift for words and art that make us laugh through our tears. READ THIS AS SOON AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN!!
Profile Image for Julie G .
885 reviews2,757 followers
November 23, 2022
This middle grades read is an interesting hybrid: half-graphic novel, half-traditional book.

I can easily grasp what a long and complicated project it must have been for the author and illustrator, Remy Lai, to conceptualize and produce.

The art here is interesting: a palette of blue, black and white throughout the entire story, the “B characters” often drawn as “Martians” to convey the feeling of the young immigrants to their new environment (which feels Martian to them).

I originally selected this book for the storyline: two boys from an unnamed Asian country immigrate to Australia with their recently widowed mother.

The author/illustrator herself emigrated from Indonesia to Australia.

Two out of three of my children share a similar story: my daughters were born in China, and they came to the states not knowing a word of English (though having the buffer of American parents).

This was a read-aloud with my 12-year-old, who often aspires to be a chef and loves books and shows about cooking, and I assumed we were going to be the ideal readers for this.

We enjoyed it. . . to an extent. To be honest, we found the book to be about 100 pages too long. In today's world of middle grades reads, a book of almost 400 pages is a bit much to ask of a fifth or sixth grader's attention span.

And that brings me to my other small gripes: did the author/illustrator research current educational programs at all? I'm a former educator, and I have a background in what we call here “ESL” or “ELL.” Basically, “English as a Second Language” or “English-language learners.” Not only have I taught it, my youngest child is still in an ELL program.

Yet, these boys, who don't speak a word of English, land in Brisbane, Australia, in a modern-day school system, and they are given absolutely no proper attention or instruction or classroom. This is totally unrealistic.

Also, their widowed mother leaves her entire support system back home and instead chooses to works nights in a bakery, leaving her 9-year-old and 11-year-old sons alone, every night, in their small apartment. When the little one gets lost and is taken into police custody, it is also unrealistic that the authorities don't conduct any type of investigation as to why the young boys are home alone every night. The mother is like a cartoon cut-out in the background, perpetually smiling, as her traumatized children are completely ignored. (For clarification: not in a Frank McCourt sort of way, just an afterthought, like she's non-essential to the plot).

But, despite these niggles, my biggest issue was with the word “booger,” and the potty humor that was so unnecessary throughout the entire story.

I get it: brothers are often very physical with one another, and they're often gross, too. I don't have this in my particular household; I have one son and two daughters, and my girls can be verbally vicious with one another, but not physically gross.

There was so much “booger” talk and slurping and sucking of cake batter with grubby fingers, I was green by the time they pulled any cake out of the oven.

I'm getting ready to make a pumpkin pie and a carrot cake with lemon cream frosting this morning, for tomorrow's Thanksgiving celebration, and I can tell you that I'm thrilled that these boys will not be joining me in my kitchen.
Profile Image for Darla.
3,362 reviews531 followers
May 12, 2019
This book made me want to eat cake! Yingwen (11) feels like he is on an alien planet when he and his little brother immigrate to Australia with their mother. He grows weary of attempting to speak and understand English. It is such a tedious process and he feels like he is SLOW. Because of his fond memories of making cakes with his family before the move, cookbooks are a source of comfort. Yingwen hatches a plan (which requires constant revisions) in which he and his little brother will bake all the cakes that were to be on the menu at a bakery their father had dreamed of opening named Pie in the Sky. The two boys manage to bake twelve cakes in all, mostly in secret. In order to erase all evidence of their baking, they also polish off each cake in one sitting most of the time. This is a heartwarming story although I grew weary of the word "booger" and did not always love the graphics. Overall, the combination works well and shows a family overcoming loss and adversity with hope for the future.

A big thank you to MacMillan Children's and NetGalley for a digital ARC of this new middle grade novel in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Suja.
133 reviews5 followers
March 12, 2023
The main protagonist of this story is almost 12 year old Jingwen who has immigrated to Australia with his mother and younger brother Yanghoo. The story takes through the difficulties they face due to language barrier, moving to a new place, assimilating into a new culture and also grief. The whole story is told from the first person POV of the protagonist. Jingwen is unable to focus in school or make new friends due to the language issues. He almost feels like either he is an alien or he has landed on Mars with everybody except him communicating in the Martian language. Jingwen thinks that everything that's going wrong in his life can be rectified by baking all the cakes him and his dad had decided for the menu of the new bakery they would open in Australia. Unfortunately, his dad is no more and his mom is too busy fending for the family. Jingwen along with his brother sets out to bake every cake that was decided for the bakery "Pie in the Sky" menu. His mom has strict rules about boys not going near the oven or stove when she is not around and the boys have to work around that. Is Jingwen successful in baking all the cakes? Does his life get back on track?

1) Good choice of subject (Immigration, Language barrier, different culture and grief)
2) Nice illustrations (Author herself is the illustrator)
3) Depictions of alien feelings of Jingwen covered very well through the use of symbols. This was a clever move on the author's part

1) The author could have started off giving some background about which country they immigrated from and it’s culture.
2) Book surely could have been edited better and the number of pages could have been cut short.
3) I could hardly empathize with Jingwen considering the book is from his POV and there is no authenticity in the language to show that he is a non-native speaker. He knows the English words for all the ingredients in the cake and can also grocery shop along with his brother without any language difficulties. That seem little farfetched.
4) The sibling banter was good but the overuse of the word "Booger" kind of dampens the whole feel of that.
5) Mom's character could have been developed little better. Her presence is very limited and the only side of her that is shown is that she is hardworking. I wish she was given little more space in the book

My rating 3.25 rounded to 3
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,427 reviews397 followers
April 14, 2019
11 year old Jingwen moves to Australia with his mother and annoying younger brother, and it's like he's landed on Mars. His English isn't great, school sucks, his little brother picks up English quickly, the other students think he's slow, and he's wracked with the guilt of memories of his father. But Jingwen has a solution. If he can just bake all of the cakes his father planned for his cake shop, life will get better.

There's just one problem. Jingwen's mother won't allow him to bake.

I requested this ARC from NetGalley because I thought that it was all graphic novel, but it's more of a regular novel with some comic illustrations thrown in here or there. The comics compliment the story and add more context and illustration (plus the way Yanghao is drawn is hilarious), but I kinda wished it had been done as a graphic novel in full instead.

A lot happens in this book, but overall it's about fitting in and learning to face your fears and your grief, making friends, moving into a new place, and a little bit about coping mechanisms and communication. And of course, a lot about mixed messages, particularly when you don't speak the language but don't want to seem dumb or slow.

Just make sure you've eaten something before reading this, because if you have zero willpower like you'll find yourself zipping into the grocery store at 8 am on a Sunday to pick up delicious cheesecake. And get stares from all the grocers, because who buys cheesecake at 8 am on Sunday?

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
Profile Image for Truebluedah ♪.
163 reviews20 followers
April 4, 2019
I absolutely adored this book. ❤️
At my age, there aren’t many middle grade books that satisfy me. But this one did! It was such a sweet, heartfelt book.I know how hard it is to feel like an alien. (Mostly cause I actually look like one.. 😂
And the story was so creative and well written.
And guys...

And they are evened out perfectly.
Not too much so that it feels like a graphic novel,
But not too little that it is like “where be all the pictures? 🙀🤔”

This story of friendship, getting over doubt, and cakes was such a favorite for me. I can’t wait for y’all to read it! ❤️
Profile Image for Gigi.
392 reviews16 followers
March 28, 2019
The premise of the book was intriguing and because I'm Asian, I like to support my own kind.

I really liked the illustrations and was hoping this was going to be more of comic book, rather than novel.

Unfortunately, the storytelling was a bit too long for my attention span and I felt this was more of a story catered to a younger audience. It read more like a children's book (between ages 6-9), rather than middle grade.

**Thank you Raincoast Books & Henry Holt and Company for my ARC**
Profile Image for Kate Olson.
2,204 reviews724 followers
November 15, 2020
What a unique and special story ❤️ Having this story be from the perspective of a 11 yo who moves to Australia (from an unnamed country) and doesn’t know any English makes it such an important one for all kids and teachers to read. I’ll be buying this for my school library and will be booktalking it heavily! The partial graphic format will make it one I can push to my DOAWK lovers to hopefully get them to branch out a bit. Grades 3-6
Profile Image for tara.
194 reviews114 followers
January 18, 2021
Read this review on my blog!

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!

★★★★☆ (4.5 stars)

— representation: Chinese mc and scs

— trigger warnings: bullying, past death of a parent, brief mention of blood
Profile Image for Prince William Public Libraries.
749 reviews115 followers
February 22, 2021
Jingwen is frustrated. He has just moved to Australia and feels like an alien because he doesn’t speak much English. He’s doing poorly in school and thinks the other kids are making fun of him. He’s jealous that his little brother Yanghao is quickly picking up the language and making new friends, and he’s annoyed at having to watch him in the evenings when his mom leaves for work. Mostly he misses his dad, who died in a car accident before the big move.

But Jingwen thinks he’s found a solution to his problems. He used to bake cakes with his father back when life was wonderful and they dreamed of opening a fancy bakery called Pie in the Sky. He knows cakes make you feel good, so what he needs to do is bake all twelve of the cakes they were planning on selling in the shop and then everything will be alight. Since his mom has forbidden him from using the oven when she’s not home, Jingwen decides he’ll just have to figure out a clever way to do it without telling any lies… and without getting caught.

Pie in the Sky is funny and full of heart. You’ll laugh at the goofy antics of the two brothers and be moved by the emotional struggles of Jingwen as he tries to adjust to his new life. Lai deftly mixes traditional narrative with lots of illustrations and comic panels, resulting in a perfect middle grade read reminiscent of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, and the graphic novels of Raina Telgemeier.

-John D.

Click here to find the book at Prince William Public Libraries.

Click here to find the Playaway audiobook at Prince William Public Libraries.
Profile Image for B.A. Wilson.
2,451 reviews305 followers
March 11, 2019
Thank you to Netgalley, and the publisher, for allowing me to read an early copy of this book, which releases on May 14. Unfortunately, I'm the odd woman out, as I seem to be one of the only people who just really did not enjoy this and couldn't even force myself through to the end. Under the circumstances, you may want to take my review with a grain of salt. This obviously just wasn't for me.

I wanted this to be a fascinating story about immigration, but I confess I didn’t even make it to the end. I’m just not a fan of this. The storytelling is pointless and frustrating. It lacks interest and authenticity, which is what I most wanted from this.

The voice is very young for the age of the character, which I’m guessing to be probably 11 or 12? I’m not sure, and it is never made clear. All we know is that he is older than his 9-year-old brother is. The uncomfortable part for me is that the voice doesn’t match that of the maturity or development level of a middle school-aged student, and I just couldn’t get over it. His brain seems to process and share information on the level of a 6 or 7-year old.

The artwork is all done in cool shades of blue, which is interesting, but this is not a true graphic novel (something I’m very disappointed about considering the issues in the storytelling). It transitions between panels of artwork to long blocks of tedious text. The long blocks of text are overly descriptive, in a way that is a bit frustrating to read, when they could have just shown me that information quickly through pictures….so I don’t exactly understand the logic behind the overall format of this story. If it doesn’t want to be a full graphic novel, then the storytelling in the long text sections needs to be significantly stronger and more interesting.

Also, this has a very slow and boring start full of a lot of details that might be culturally relevant but that aren’t useful in introducing an interesting and exciting story. The storyline is so bogged down by specifics about stuff that just really does not matter. It forgets that it needs to first attract readers into the world and the main character’s life and make us actually care, before it piles on the endless details. Readers who don’t care and don’t invest are readers that don’t make it to the end of the story.

Another thing that was tiring was that the dialogue is mostly useless and very repetitive (how many times can someone shout the word booger and discuss the alien languages---apparently a lot in just the first few chapters). I just couldn’t keep reading the same thing over and over again. The dialogue fails to move the story forward. I confess that I was already painfully bored and considering quitting by page 6, but I kept reading for several more chapters out of some sort of guilt.

Unfortunately, this just never becomes the interesting, well-told story that I want it to be. The voice always rings false and feels unnatural, and both brothers speak as if they are 4-5 years younger than they are actually supposed to be, which is continually unsettling. It’s possible that both brothers had severe developmental delays that made them speak and act in ways that were far beneath their age and developmental levels, but if so, this was never made clear through the story.

After a while, I just couldn’t take anymore and gave up. It became like nails on the chalkboard, and I found myself flipping forward just to see more of the artwork, which I enjoyed. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough artwork to make it worth reading all of that boring text that seemed to be going nowhere fast.

The book is also described as laugh-out-loud funny in the description, but I never found any part of this funny. It was more annoying than anything. I think that overall, it was just a misguided attempt. I wish it was an actual graphic novel, instead of a story with some graphic panels, as I think that would have worked better. And while I really appreciate diversity in a story, it still has to be a well-told story, which this just isn’t.

There are far better graphic novels, and stories of immigration, out there for middle school students. Honestly, I wouldn’t even call this middle grade. It would probably fare better with upper elementary students, such as 3rd-5th graders, considering the young voice and maturity levels of the MC and his brother.
Profile Image for Laurie.
864 reviews
March 27, 2019
Interest Level: 3-6

Imagine that you have to move to another country and you do not speak the language. How hard would it be to make friends? Eleven-year-old Jingwen is facing this exact situation. Jingwen, his mom, and his annoying little brother, Yanghao, are moving to Australia and they do not speak English very well. It was a dream of Jingwen's dad to move to Australia and open up a fancy bakery but he passed away unexpectedly before they could move. Jingwen's mom decided to go ahead with the move, and so they did. Jingwen feels like he is on Mars and is very frustrated trying to learn the language. He is not doing well in school or at making friends. He is even more frustrated when Yanghao seems to be picking up the language and making a friend. The only thing that makes Jingwen happy is baking, and he wants to make the twelve specialty cakes that his father wanted to make when they moved. The problem is, Jingwen's mom works in the late afternoon and night so Jingwen has to watch his little brother after school. His mom will not let him cook while she is gone because it could be too dangerous. Jingwen and Yanghao decide it is worth the sneaking around and lying because they are both so happy when they are baking. The problem is, all the lying begins to catch up with them and when an accident happens, the truth comes out. Will Jingwen be able to make all of the cakes in memory of his dad? Will he ever learn how to speak English? Will he ever make a true friend? Or will he always feel like he lives on Mars? This is a great heart-wrenching story of love, loss, and finding ones self.

This was really a great story about not fitting in and the feeling of not belonging. All of the emotions that Jingwen go through will really pull at your heartstrings. It seems like everything is going against Jingwen and just when you think it can't get any worse for him, things go to a whole new level of low. I love the resilience and determination of Jingwen despite the odds against him. I also love how Remi Lai developed the character of Yanghao. At the beginning of the story I wanted spank the stew out of him, but as the story develops, so does he, and he becomes a kid that you love. This is just an all around great story with great characters. Don't miss this one!

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Profile Image for Lata.
3,616 reviews192 followers
September 29, 2020
Sweet, funny and poignant. This story covers a lot of ground as it deals with a family moving to a new country, learning a new language, and finding new friends, all while dealing with the grief of a dead family member.
Older brother Jingwen is having a lot of trouble fitting in at his new school after he, his mother and younger brother Yanghao move to Australia after the death of the boys’ father. English isn’t coming to Jingwen easily, unlike younger brother Janghao, and Jingwen is still grieving, so his schoolwork is suffering, and he’s having trouble making friends. Their mother works long hours, and is also deeply grieving.
Jingwen also feels very guilty, because he said some mean things to his dad the last time they were together, and Jingwen gets it in his head that if only he makes all the cakes his dad had wanted to make for the bakery he was planning to start, everything will magically improve.
Remi Lai does a good job with Jingwen’s characterization, and I enjoyed all the silly arguments he and Janghao have, and the way their mother is handling her feelings.
I particularly liked how Jingwen feels that if only he accomplishes this goal he’ll fix his life. And all the many rationalizations and scrapes he gets into to support the goal also feel like something an eleven-year old would do. And then, how the author has Jingwen eventually figure out how to begin to actually improve his life.
One of my favourite moments from the book is when the two bothers actually agree on something together, and cry out ”Salted caramel!’
Remi Lai’s artwork has a lot of energy and humour to it, and beautifully illustrates the story. And reading about all those cakes made me so hungry!
Profile Image for Itasca Community Library.
525 reviews23 followers
February 5, 2021
Beth says:
This illustrated novel is the story of two brothers who have recently moved to Australia with their mother after their father's death. It's told from the perspective of Jingwen, the older brother, who feels like he has just landed on Mars as he doesn't understand what anyone is saying and has to get used to a whole new set of customs. Making cakes based on his father's recipes helps him as he struggles to get used to his new country and deal with his grief. Jingwen and his brother must make these cakes in secret while their mother is at work, which adds some humor and suspense (will they get caught?) to this otherwise serious topic. While geared toward upper elementary school-age readers, it's a touching account for all ages who want an inside perspective of what it might feel like to be a new immigrant. The strong illustrations add a lot to the story, making this book a great choice for graphic novel fans.
Profile Image for Michelle Glatt.
622 reviews45 followers
January 30, 2021
One thing that strikes me about this lovely book is that it can be enjoyed by a variety of readers on a variety of levels (one might say it is like The Little Prince in that regard). Some might focus on the brotherly rivalry. Others might revel in the cake baking. Still others will emotionally connect with Jingwen's struggles to adjust to a new school, language, and country. And then there will be those who will grieve with him over the loss of his father. Of course there will be readers, too, who are some or all of the above.
Profile Image for Kathie.
Author 2 books66 followers
May 29, 2019
Jingwen, his brother, Yanghao, and their mother move to Australia, but it might as well Mars because neither of the boys speak any English. While Yanghao embraces their new community, Jingwen is stuck in the past and the life they left behind, including their grandparents cake shop, and their father who passed away a few years ago. Jingwen is convinced if he can just bake all of the cakes that he and his father had on their list for their dream cake shop, Pie in the Sky, that he will somehow be able to move on and not feel like he left his dad behind. But Jingwen is not allowed to use the oven while his mother is at work, so for his plan to succeed, he's going to have to keep a few secrets, including the fact he may be sent down a grade if his English doesn't improve very soon. Can Jingwen complete his mission, or does he risk losing more than he's already lost along the way.

I love the illustrations in this book, which emphasize the humorous aspects and add so much to the story. The relationship between two brothers who are dealing with the move in different ways is heartwarming and relatable for many kids who have had to move to a new place, yet the added pressure of learning a new language without any preparation is an aspect about which many kids would benefit from reading. I suggest you don't read this book if you're hungry, because there are so many references to delicious cakes (and a recipe for a special rainbow cake at the end). I'm excited to get this book into the hands of young readers!
Profile Image for Nicole M. Hewitt.
1,419 reviews283 followers
October 12, 2021
Pie in the Sky is utterly heartwarming, but also humorous. The story follows Jingwen and his family as they immigrate to Australia. Jingwen feels like he's been transferred to another planet inhabited by aliens but soon starts to imagine that he might be the alien. Nothing in this new place is right, especially without his father, who died before they made the trip. The one solace that Jingwen finds is in baking his father's recipes. Jingwen's mother doesn't approve of him using the oven, so he and his little brother have to bake in secret. Soon, it becomes something of an obsession, a lifeline. Jingwen starts to believe that these recipes are the key to a successful life in this new world---like he needs to finish the recipes in order to fix the problems he's encountering. The story is heartbreaking in some parts, but the humor helps keep the book from feeling sad overall. The style is a seamless blend of chapter book and graphic novel, which is really fun to read. Sometimes the illustrations go along with the text, but at other times, the action takes place only in the art panels, like you would expect in a true graphic novel. The result makes for a unique read!
Profile Image for Laura.
2,703 reviews81 followers
June 13, 2019
Cake makes everything better

This is a well done Fish Out of Water story, except in this case, it is Martian in Australia.

Jingwen cannot learn English as fast as his brother can, and he is feeling isolated. He knows this is happening, but he is also sad that his father didn’t live to see them emigrate to Australia. The only way he knows how to mourn is to recreate the cakes that his father and he made, that they had planned to make at his shop, that he would one day have.

Jingwen thinks if he can make all the cakes, for the shop that was going to be called Pie in the Sky, that he would feel better about his dad dying.

The voice of Jingwen is quite lovely, and funny at the same time.

This is how he describes his sadness:

All the while I was telling Yanghao about Papa, my nose didn’t burn. Somehow, the sweetness of the cakes takes away the bitter sadness. Somehow, sometimes during the cake making, some of the seashells in my pockets disappear.

A well crafted book that anyone who has started a new school, or had to move, can relate to, even if you know the local language.
Profile Image for Ann-Marie "Cookie M.".
1,111 reviews121 followers
July 22, 2019
I gave this one five stars because I have never seen anyone so graphically illustrate how disorienting and confusing it is to suddenly find yourself in a new country where you do not understand the language or any of the visual social cues. Although "Our in the Sky" is told from the point of view of Jingwen, a middle school aged Chinese immigrant to Australia, it has implications for anyone trying to understand, or anyone who has never given a thought to the difficulties faced by people trying to learn a totally new way of life.I
The story is told through text, cartoon drawings and pictographs.
It also deals with sibling rivalry, budding adolescence and the resulting upheavals in the family, grief and peer relationships.
It is a lot for one book to handle. "Pie in the Sky" does it exceedingly well. If I were a middle school teacher or counselor, I would want this book available for my students.

I received this book free in exchange for an honest on Goodreads.
Profile Image for skye.
153 reviews92 followers
July 29, 2020
VERY CUTE & TOUCHING!!! this book reminds me a lot of the slice-of-life contemporaries i read fondly as a kid, and i have a lot of nostalgia for these kinds of stories. the themes of being misfit in a completely foreign culture you've been dropped into, being the eldest sibling in an asian household, and grief were relatable and woven into the story with a lot of heart. i can't really emphasise how much remy lai was able to completely replicate the voice of a twelve-year-old kid with care and absolute precision—the voice flowed so well that it was really easy to get into the main character's head almost immediately. thank u cw for yelling about this book so much that i finally got to reading it <3
410 reviews
February 7, 2021
My friend lent me this kids' book, and I really loved it. The 11-year-old main character's feelings of isolation and loneliness, and envy at his younger brother's comparatively easy assimilation into the family's new life in Australia, were so perfectly developed. His struggle to come to terms with his father's death in an accident before they immigrated is the emotional core of the book and, I found, very moving. Many tears shed. I liked the hybrid novel format with occasional graphic novel elements, though these were so clever and well done that I wondered why the author didn't do this whole book as a graphic novel. I think it might have been even more successful and brilliant that way.
41 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2020
I loved every second of this book and am excited to share it with my class in the future! This book perfectly puts into words how many children feel when going to new places! I believe this would be perfect to share with a class if someone new was joining, especially if the child was from a different background. Every child should read this as it would help them to gain a new perspective.
Profile Image for Meghana.
6 reviews
May 23, 2020
This book is so good! It may seem a bit boring in the first few chapters and yanghao may seem like a booger but pie in the sky is amazing and you can relate to jingwen. This book is about jingwen who has recently moved to Australia not understanding english and getting bullied. The only thing that comforts him is cake.
Profile Image for Kate Hannigan.
Author 30 books103 followers
June 26, 2020
Loved this book. So much heart! Would give this to any kid who like graphic novels. Or cake. A fantastic read.
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