12-year-old Cady Bennett finally gets to see her mother’s sister. The meeting does not occur in exactly the manner that she had hoped. Instead of having a wonderful family event, Shell arrives to remove her from foster care after her father ends up in jail… again. She takes the girl to Julian, a small rural community, to live with her and her partner, Suzanne. Michelle has dogs, chickens who lay eggs, a nice house, land, and best of all… a pie shop, Shell’s Pies. There is plenty of food there for Cady to eat and a place for her to stay, unlike the food and housing insecurity that she experienced with her father. However, the teen is unsure how long all of this will last. No one can tell her when her father will get out of prison.
Cady is a foodie: she loves food and baking. She cannot wait to perfect her pie-making and cake-baking skills. Shell encourages the girl to make a thousand crusts in order to perfect the craft of pie making, and the first dozen or so have to be completed by hand. In the girl’s cooking adventures, she has a few foibles. One pie lands on the floor, pitched there by Cady in her frustration of not achieving a perfect crust. Her attempt at baking a cake and then forgetting it while it is baking results in a scorched mess… but she and Shell manage to salvage a few of the remains. Most troubling… this misadventure almost burned down the house.
Cady likes Maria and her kids, Claudia and Jay, all of whom work in the pie shop. Jay becomes her buddy, and she hangs around town with him. It is distressing to the girl to learn of the family’s limited opportunities since they are undocumented immigrants. Jay and family live in constant fear of deportation, and they do not trust law enforcement officials. Cady’s family situation has different problems: her parents were addicted to drugs, and her father has not been stable. The two of them lived as vagabonds and homeless persons.
By contrast, Shell and Suzanne are loving and sweet. There is only one glaring problem with this storybook scenario: the pie shop is in real financial trouble. Shell has had difficulty paying the bills, and the pie shop is alarmingly empty much of the time. Similar restaurant businesses in the area seem to be booming. Shell’s and Maria’s families depend of the shop for their livelihood. Can Cady imagine up any ideas to keep Shell’s Pies open for business? She better dream up a brilliant plan fast since bankruptcy is swiftly approaching.
Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway, 2019
I loved the stark, honest look into the lives of an undocumented family.