Publication Date: 6 June 2019
When Jingwen moves to Australia, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. Making friends is impossible, since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s stuck looking after his little brother Yanghao.
But Jingwen knows how to make everything better. If he can just make all of the cakes on the menu of the bakery his father had planned to open—and complete the dream he didn’t have time to finish—then everything will be okay. Sure, he’ll have to break his mother’s most important rule about not using the oven when she’s at work, keep his little brother from spilling his secret, and brush up on his baking skills, but some things are worth the risk.
A cup of humour, two of heart and a whole lot of cake are mixed together to create a poignant, moving tale of emigration, loneliness and grief.
Jingwen feels like an alien as he struggles to adapt to his new life in Australia – English is incredibly hard to learn and that means making friends is hard. He understands enough to know that the children in his class think he’s slow.
His younger brother and his mum don’t seem to be finding the adjustment as difficult as he is, and Yanghao picks up the language much faster than he does, adding to his frustration.
What’s worse though, is that the move was his father’s dream, and he’s the one person who isn’t there. Jingwen spends his nights making the cakes his father planned to bake to connect him to his old life, as we slowly discover why they’ve moved to a new country without him.
The fusion of prose and graphic novel works brilliantly to emphasise the emotions the characters are going through, and just how hard a school day is for a child with little understanding of the language they are being taught in. By writing spoken English in Alien, we experience the same lack of comprehension as Jingwen. Coupled with the memories of his father, and the heartbreaking emotions he is going through and his mother’s inability to even talk about Papa, it is all too easy to understand the (sometimes dreadful) decisions he makes.
I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking read, reminding me how difficult school is for newly arrived children, especially when they can’t express their worries, and that even if only for the time you are baking and eating it, cake really does make life better.
A brilliant read for empathy, and one that should be in every school.
Great for fans of Raina Telegaimer and Jerry Craft.