Weeks, Sarah. Pie. 192 p. Scholastic. 2011. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780545270113.
In this cozy mystery for middle grade readers, Alice’s beloved Aunt Polly, a famous but humble pie maker, has unexpectedly passed away. It seems Aunt Polly has left her secret pie crust recipe to her cat, Lardo, and the cat is left to Alice. But there’s a catnapper on the loose, and everyone in town is suddenly trying to bake award-winning pies... which means almost anyone could be a suspect. While reeling from the loss of her aunt, Alice sets out to solve the mystery.
Young readers will enjoy this book's whodunit mystery combined with themes of healing, friendship, and self-discovery. Language is straightforward and simple, and the 1950s setting provides a charming backdrop for a heartwarming story. The author skillfully captures the crushing loss of a loved one, subtly depicting those small moments in which the sadness overtakes everything else, yet the narrative is never bogged down by Alice's grief.
Characterization takes a bit of a backseat to plot, but the reader gets a good sense of who Alice and her friend, Charlie, are, as well as who Aunt Polly was. Alice’s mother is unrealistically unpleasant, but I suspect that she and other adult characters are purposely written as almost caricatures-- they are adults as seen through a child’s eyes, which is appropriate for the intended audience. A child doesn’t always see adults as well-rounded people with real concerns, after all. While an adult reader might view Alice's mother's change of heart in the end to be a little too convenient, it will likely be reassuring to a younger reader.
Now, perhaps my favorite part of this book is that it comes with TASTY PIE RECIPES. The beginning of each chapter is marked by a recipe from Aunt Polly’s notebook, and each one looks easy and delicious. I was only three chapters into this book when I broke down and HAD to make a pie.
I chose the buttermilk pie recipe, and am IN LOVE. It was so easy! My 2.5 year old helped mix the ingredients, proudly proclaiming, “I'm a baker!” and alternately asking with his typical curiosity, “Why makin’ pie, mama?” (Well, sweetie, so mama can EAT it, of course!)
It was the first time we baked together, and both of us were very pleased with the results. The pie was creamy with a perfectly mild sweetness and just a hint of lemony tartness. It was especially good fresh out of the oven- isn’t that true of everything?- but also delicious after being chilled in the fridge. I admit, I had to go back for more than one slice. (Ahem... okay, considerably more than one slice.)
Pie will be available in bookstores everywhere on October 1st. I received the ARC at the YA in Bloom event hosted by Bridge to Books earlier this year.