Kid Lit Review of “Summer of a Thousand Pies” by Margaret Dilloway

The first time we traveled to San Diego, we were advised to look for pies from Julian, California in specialty grocery stores, and it was love at first bite. Ever since, we have grabbed them up whenever we could. So of course I couldn’t resist reading this sweet middle grade coming-of-age story set in Julian and centered around the art of pie making.

Cady Bennett is 12, and she and her dad are homeless; life has gone downhill for them ever since Cady’s mom died when Cady was five. The principal at her school in San Diego finally felt the need to contact protective services, and they in turn contacted the sister of Cady’s late mom to take at least temporary custody of Cady. Michelle, called Shell, brings a reluctant and hostile Cady with her to Julian, around an hour inland from San Diego, where Shell lives with her partner Suzanne and runs a pie shop.

Cady wants to help bake. She loves the idea of cooking, although she hasn’t been able to do much with their van’s hotplate and an occasional motel microwave, and Shell and Suzanne allow her to experiment. At first, it is a disaster, but Cady gets better, and also helps out in the pie shop. She even makes friends, something that was virtually impossible before given her itinerant lifestyle and the contempt of kids at school. To do so, however, she has to overcome her ingrained suspicion of and belligerence toward others.

Most people she meets are patient and understanding of Cady, and better yet, they knew her mom and can tell her stories about this woman she never really knew.

But Shell’s shop is in trouble financially, and the attractive stable life Cady finally has is endangered. Cady’s new friend Jay, whose mother works at Shell’s Pie, also lives with uncertainly; he and his family are undocumented immigrants. Together Cady and Jay try to come up with ways to help save them all. And in the meantime, Cady bakes and bakes. As she practices over and over, she learns to temper her expectations, take advice gracefully, and build on failure to achieve success. These lessons translate to her life and help her grow up in an entirely different way than just being “street savvy.”

Evaluation: I enjoyed this story and was impressed with all the life lessons incorporated into it, without it seeming too contrived. And what can be bad about reading about pie? There are even recipes at the end with “Notes from Cady” to help make them easier for kids.

Nota Bene: If you get to the San Diego area and find pies from Julian, or better yet, travel to Julian itself, I highly recommend the Apple Mountain Berry Crumb.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Balzer + Bray, 2019

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