When Jingwen moves to Australia, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible, since he doesn’t speak English, and he's stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother'srule: no using the oven while she's at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake more elaborate cakes, they'll have to cook up more elaborate excuses to keep their baking a secret - and continue the dream their father started.
Lai centers her incisive illustrated novel debut on Jingwen, who moves from his unspecified home country to Australia with his mother and younger brother Yanghao after his father's death. The boy mourns the loss of his father and feels like an alien among his fifth-grade classmates as he struggles to learn English, which sounds like "Martian words" (blue-tinged illustrations show others, then the boys, as space aliens in their daily life). Summoning memories of baking with Papa, Jingwen imagines the cakes they'd anticipated selling at Pie in the Sky, the bakery they planned to open upon moving. Jingwen vows to make the 12 cakes, believing this will preserve his memories of Papa and that "cakes make everything better." But his baking obsession leads to the betrayal of his hardworking mother's trust, landing him and Yanghao in hot water. Though repetition of facts and dialogue (including the brothers' penchant for calling each another "Booger") at times thwarts the narrative flow, its pace accelerates in the final chapters as Lai adds a few surprise ingredients to concoct a deeply satisfying ending for this heartwarming immigrant story about sibling bonds, honesty, and surmounting obstacles. Ages 8 12.