cover image Upside-Down Cake

Upside-Down Cake

Carol Carrick. Clarion Books, $14 (64pp) ISBN 978-0-395-84151-8

Carrick and Bouma (Valentine) offer a sensitive story of a boy's coming to terms with his father's illness and death. The unnamed nine-year-old narrator begins with a description of the last birthday he and his father shared--digging their forks right into a pineapple upside-down cake as it sits on the serving plate (""Today's our birthday. We'll eat dinner tomorrow!"" Dad explains to Mom). This memory is especially vivid, because it's the last time the boy can remember his family sharing a joyful moment; soon after, his father is diagnosed with incurable cancer. Carrick chooses a simple, direct narrative voice to convey the small episodes of awkwardness and anger, guilt and sorrow that follow. How, the boy wonders, can Mr. Kelly across the street rake leaves when his neighbor is going to die? Couldn't the phone ring and the doctor suddenly tell Mom that it was all a mistake? Is it okay to have fun while Dad grows sicker and sicker? Why does everyone at school treat him like someone special after the funeral, but later clam up when he wants to talk about his father? Bouma's pencil illustrations have a rough feel, almost as if they were sketches rather than finished pieces, a stylistic choice that works well with the understated tone of the text. This well-observed story provides a mirror for those coping with grief and will also aid those who wish to understand and empathize with a grieving friend. Ages 7-10. (Sept.)