Middle Grade Review: Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway

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TitleSummer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Twelve-year-old Cady has never met her Aunt Shell but is sent to her countryside home for the summer. But can she, Aunt Shell, and her aunt’s partner Suzanne save their struggling pie shop from bankruptcy?

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Summer of a Thousand Pies features a lesbian couple, Aunt Shell and Suzanne, who care for Cady after Child Protective Services relocates her from her dad. For the most part, the aunts don’t face any backlash from their community as a same-sex couple raising a child. Their sexual orientation is less a conflict in the story as it is something that makes their characters feel more nuanced and human.

What I liked: When I saw the cover for Summer of a Thousand Pies, I thought I’d be settling into a fun and lighthearted middle grade contemporary. I was wrong. This is a beautiful, important book, but it doesn’t deal with easy themes. Cady’s mother has died and her grief-stricken father descends into alcoholism to the point where she has to live with her Aunt Shell. Her aunt’s pie shop is run with equal amounts of passion and joy, but it isn’t easy to thrive as a small bakery. And Cady’s new friend Jay, whose parents are undocumented and works at Aunt Shell’s bakery, depends on the pie shop staying open to keep from going homeless.

But that doesn’t mean that this book is free of uplifting moments. Thanks to her aunts and her new friends, Cady’s is able to let down her guard and trust the people she loves the most for the first time in her life. Through baking and immersing herself in life with Aunt Shell, Cady is able to heal from the loss of her mother and her father’s mental health issues. Summer of a Thousand Pies is an example of how middle grade can delve into just as real and heartbreaking issues as YA, as well as queer representation, in a way that’s appropriate and helpful for its young readers.

Recommended: This is hands-down one of the best and (no pun intended) sweetest LGBT middle grade books I’ve read. I’d recommend it to elementary and middle school students in particular but also teachers who are looking for a way to introduce LGBT characters to their students in a compassionate and normalizing light

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

Author Guest Post: The Whispers By Greg Howard

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Hey, everyone! Today I’m super excited to participate in the blog tour for The Whispers by Greg Howard, a moving LGBT middle grade debut released on January 15th and available in stores and online. Check out the book teaser below, then read a guest post by the author on queer representation in middle grade fiction.

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Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again. 

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

The Whispers is a middle grade novel that features a queer protagonist. What influenced you to write LGBTQ middle grade and what are some of the positives or challenges of writing in this genre? Do you have any LGBTQ middle grade book recommendations?

Like Riley, the main character in The Whispers, I grew up a queer kid in the rural deep South. When I was Riley’s age, I never saw myself in books, television, or movies and that was very lonely and isolating. I sometimes thought I was the only little boy in the world who liked other boys instead of girls. While this story was first and foremost inspired by my mother, I also wanted to write it for all the queer kids still living out there in areas where they feel they must hide who they really are. I want them to feel seen, represented, and understand that they matter. If I can just reach a handful of those kids with Riley’s message of hope, then I will be thrilled.

The biggest challenge when writing for this age group however, is getting a book past the gatekeepers and into the hands of the kids who need it the most. Fortunately, librarians are some of the most progressive thinkers I’ve met.

While LGBTQ kids are still massively underrepresented in middle grade fiction in comparison to young adult, a few of my favorites are The Best Man by Richard Peck, George by Alex Gino, and Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle.

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Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.

Thanks so much for your insights on LGBT middle grade fiction and for sharing more about your inspiration for Riley’s character! The Whispers is a middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

If you want to catch up on the tour’s stops so far, check out the blog posts below!

January 14 – Novel Novice – Creative Instagram Picture + Spotlight 

January 15 – Pages Unbound – Author Q&A

January 16 – Bookish Connoisseur – Creative Instagram Picture

January 17 – Velarisreads – Review

January 18 – The Desert Bibliophile – Playlist

January 21 – Bookish Bug – Review + Creative Instagram Picture

January 22 – A Bronx Latina Reads – Review

January 23 – Buttons Book Reviews – Author Q&A 

January 24 – The Hermit Librarian – Review + Book Aesthetic

LGBTQ MG Review: One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

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Title: One True Way

Author: Shannon Hitchcock

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: It’s 1977, and twelve year old Allie and her grieving family move to the South following the death of her brother Eric. When Allie meets the smart and courageous Sam on her first day at Daniel Boone Middle School, she begins to question her faith and her sexuality in her conservative small town.

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What I loved: This book is a charming story that I think many LGBTQ people, regardless of age or era they grew up in, can relate to. Because Allie’s just beginning her journey to understanding her sexual orientation, she is filled with questions about what it means to follow your heart, even if other people don’t like you for it. Throughout the novel, she struggles to balance her need to belong with her need for understanding in a small town that doesn’t have any easy answers for her. It’s hopeful in a way that doesn’t gloss over the tough parts about being queer and emphasizes the importance of finding a way to live authentically with yourself.

Although her and Sam’s journey is tough, she finds support and comfort from people she can trust, like her church minister and her teacher Miss Holt, who is implied to be partners with the female school coach. While I don’t like to pare stories down to a single “take-away” message, I think it’s important to remind young queer kids that they don’t have to figure everything out alone. Figuring things out is a lot easier with someone to confide in who won’t push you to do what isn’t right for you. Whether that’s a friend, a parent, or another person who you trust, building a support system based on people who love you unconditionally is an essential part of being queer that One True Way touches on well.

Quote: ” ‘Why do you look so serious?’ Sam asked.
I reached into my back pocket and handed her the gold yarn friendship bracelet. ‘I made it out of school colors for you. Phoebe showed me how.’
Sam slipped it onto her wrist. ‘See? A perfect fit.’
I reached out and touched her arm just above the bracelet. ‘Do you like Phoebe more than me?’ 
‘I like all my friends.’
But that wasn’t what I was asking.
Sam turned and stared directly into my eyes. ‘I don’t like anybody as much as you.’
My heart hammered so hard I could barely breathe.”

Recommended: The past few years have been wonderful for LGBTQ inclusion in middle grade fiction. I still remember when it was incredibly controversial when J.K. Rowling revealed that Albus Dumbledore is gay, so having in-story queer characters is refreshing. One True Way is a sweet story about crushes and first loves that I think, despite its historical setting, matches what a lot of LGBTQ kids still experience today. This is a perfect book for both kids who are just starting to have their own first crushes or who appreciate a good love story, despite the odds placed against it.

Next: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour