PIE is a new middle grade novel by Sarah Weeks (see also my review of Jumping the Scratch). In 1955, the small town of Ipswitch, Pennsylvania is kept afloat by Polly Portman's world-famous pie shop, PIE, Mecca for pie-lovers everywhere. When Polly dies suddenly, she leaves her secret pie crust recipe to her ill-tempered cat, Lardo, and she leaves Lardo to her beloved niece, Alice. The recipe itself is nowhere in sight.
Although everyone in town mourns Polly's pies, Alice misses her aunt, her refuge from her critical mother and abstracted father, even more. When Aunt Polly's shop is ransacked, and Lardo is kidnapped, Alice and her new friend Charlie set out together to unravel the mystery (and, perhaps, find the recipe for Aunt Polly's amazing pie crust).
PIE has a bit of a Roald Dahl feel to it, with larger than life characters, and a faintly surreal quality. In the world of PIE, people don't just enjoy pie, they are obsessed with it. Like this:
"The Blueberry Award was established in 1922 to celebrate the most distinguished contribution to American pie making. Each year during the month of August, people from all over the country would box up their pies and deliver them to the Blueberry committee for consideration. The committee members would carefully evaluate the pies, "Blueberry Buzz" would spread as the top contenders emerged, "Mock Blueberry" clubs would choose their own favorites, and finally on the first Monday in September, amid a great deal of fanfare, the Blueberry committee would announce the winner." (Page 28)
(Several nods towards the 1922-established Newbery awards are included in the above, as a little gift to children's literature fans).
There is also a suspicious elementary school principal who reminds me a great deal of Miss Wormwood from Dahl's Matilda, as well as a fantasy-fulfillment quality to the ending. These aspects are set against the more ordinary framework of a 1950's small town, a toxic case of sibling jealousy that extends into adulthood, and a warm sentimentality that surrounds the relationships between Alice and Polly, and, later, Alice and Charlie. And, of course, the wonderful smell of homemade pie. Here's a passage that pretty well sums up the feel of the book:
"Working side by side at the long wooden counter, time flew by and Alice and Polly never seemed to run out of things to talk about. The air was filled not only with the delicious smell of baking pies, but with the sweet sound of laughter. Pie after pie after pie went into the oven, and no sooner would Polly pull them out than the little silver bell over the door would jingle, merrily announcing the arrival of another hungry customer. Polly greeted each and every one with a sunny smile and a warm welcome. People loved coming to PIE, but to Alice it was much more than just a pie shop. It was a home away from home, a safe place where she could truly be herself." (Page 7)
There are recipes for different kinds of pie at the start of each chapter. An endnote attributes each recipe to a real-world friend or family member of the author, while footnotes within each recipe cite which character held this type of pie as a favorite.
The mystery itself is a bit contrived, and the story's resolution is rather quick and tidy. There isn't the same depth to the historical details that one finds in, say, Kirby Larson's books. But that's ok, because PIE isn't a book that one is supposed to take literally. Pie within the book is a proxy for love, family, and community. And PIE the book is a celebration of those things. An epilogue set 40 years later reinforces PIE's heart, and leaves the reader wholly satisfied.
PIE is a quick read, perfect for younger readers newly graduated into middle grade fiction. Despite the underlying sentimentality, the quirkiness of the book keeps it boy- and girl-friendly. While this book isn't going to be for everyone, I would try it out on fans of Roald Dahl, as well as young bakers-in-the-making (and perhaps their grandmas), and anyone who likes stories with an old-fashioned tone.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: October 1, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publilsher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).