In two middle grade novels, intelligent and lovable young heroines solve problems and find their sense of self through baking. Growing up is tough, but it can also be filled with sweet victories.
In Margaret Dilloway’s Summer of a Thousand Pies, 12-year-old Cady is sent to live in a new town with her Aunt Shell, who feels like a total stranger. Cady’s father is in jail and struggling with addiction. Since her mom died when she was 3, it’s always been just Cady and her dad, homeless and living in a beat-up van.
Cady’s dad kept her from meeting her extended family, so she doesn’t know anything about Aunt Shell or her housemate, Suzanne. Cady has always wanted to learn to bake but hasn’t had a kitchen to practice in, so she’s happy to discover that her aunt runs a pie shop. Cady misses her dad, but her new life seems a perfect fit, especially when Cady makes a new friend, Jay, whose family lives on Shell’s property. Shell tells Cady she has to bake 1,000 pies to become an expert, and Cady happily takes on the challenge, but soon her new, nearly perfect life is threatened. The pie shop is failing and may be sold, and it will take more than Cady’s baking skills to turn the shop around. And when Cady learns that Jay is an undocumented immigrant, she begins to realize that everyone—not just her—has their problems.
Dilloway shines in her complex portrayal of Cady. Mistrustful and lacking confidence, Cady responds to new situations with anger, but as time passes, she’s able to depend on others, make friends and forge relationships. Dilloway’s gentle humor and lively dialogue make this warm-hearted story ring true.
Midsummer’s Mayhem, Rajani LaRocca’s debut novel, is as dense, flavorful and complex as an artisanal cupcake. And though the story is all about baking, it’s also about magic and mysterious woods, Indian folklore and food, friendship and family.
There is mayhem of all sorts in 11-year-old Mimi’s life. Unlike her talented siblings, she feels like a failure. Her successful mom works too hard to notice her much, and her dad has changed on a dime. A food editor, he has begun cramming sweets into his mouth without the smallest amount of discernment. Worse yet, her father has always been her biggest fan, but now, when she needs his expertise to help win a baking contest, he doesn’t have time for her.
Numerous threads intertwine through this story of Mimi, the youngest in a family of impressive siblings, as she tries to figure out a niche where she, and only she, can excel. Mimi’s desire to be good at something will feel familiar to many young readers, as will the dismissive siblings, busy parents and, naturally, the way-too-pretty mean girl.
Based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this story may be a tad convoluted for readers who aren’t familiar with the source material, but Mimi’s desire to succeed and her quest to win a baking contest carry the story.