Set in a small town in Texas in the 1960s, where there “wasn’t a lot to pick from summer job-wise: counter girl at Jerry’s Dairy King, shampoo girl at Babs’s Tint ‘n’ Clip,” or the maid job at the Bluebonnet Motel, WORLD OF PIES introduces readers to a young girl, Roxanne, as she begins to come of age.
Roxanne is twelve years old and crazy about baseball in 1962, the year of a pie baking contest that will change her life forever. Readers get a first-hand glimpse at Roxanne as she witnesses her first piece of racial politics, when her mother makes an issue of the fact that a neighbor is entering a pie baked by her black maid under her own name. The summer of 1962 brings Roxanne her first glance of life that isn’t always fair, yet readers still return to the warmth and coziness of small town life where Roxanne is blossoming into a young woman. In other exquisitely written vignettes that add up to a delightful episodic novel, Roxanne can be found debating the virtues of nail polish and makeup with her best friend, or trying to figure out what sort of summer job is available in such a small town as Annette.
When Roxanne decides to pursue a job as a housekeeper at The Bluebonnet Motel, she imagines that she will be outfitted like an elegant French maid. Much to her dismay, she learns that the reality is much less appealing. And in yet another wonderful piece, the appearance of a new mailman–who is a woman–in town provokes curiosity, admiration, and even a schoolgirl crush. When Roxanne’s parents abruptly declare that they are going to have another child, Roxanne is ashamed and embarrassed. She notices that her mother has strands of gray hair and that her father is going bald. They are just too old to have another child! Finally, Roxanne’s family, including her new sister Joanie, is devastated by the death of Roxanne’s father. It is then that Roxanne’s extended family–her aunt, uncle, and cousin–become even larger figures in her world.
Roxanne matures, leaves Annette, has her own family, and even sees her own mother get remarried. But what is most compelling about the detailed stories is the way problems recede into the cozy embrace of a small town in Texas, where a pie baking contest is the biggest event of the season, but still, it’s the perfect place to live. And if that isn’t enough to satisfy the appetite of a treat of a novel, the recipes following each chapter–which include Aunt Ruthie’s Cinnamon Rolls, Mabel’s Angel Food Cake with Chocolate Sauce, and of course Miss Cherry Pie–evoke a sweet sensation that makes Annette, Texas seem more like home than anywhere else in the whole world. Filled with a unique blend of just the right ingredients–love, compassion, and humor, readers will enjoy the smells, tastes, and comforts of Annette long after they finish WORLD OF PIES.
Reviews of WORLD OF PIES.
The following review was written by Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA, Copyright © 2000 Cahners Business Information.
A collection of bright, lighthearted yet poignant stories about a close-knit family. The portrait of Roxanne, a small-town girl growing up in Texas in the ‘60s, begins with pie-making lessons from Mom during her 12th summer and continues until her own preteen daughter’s instruction in pastry making begins. Roxanne’s father runs a small shop selling bras and corsets, a source of embarrassment for the whole family, but a lucrative business.
In the first episode, her mother rouses the town’s ire by insisting that a pie baked by one matron’s maid be entered in the local fair under the baker’s own name-never mind who paid for the ingredients and provided the kitchen. Roxanne supports her mom, but quakes at the thought of the taunts she could receive when school starts. When she is 15, her mother becomes pregnant. An only child, the teen is both mortified and jealous, and feels guilty for having such thoughts.
In the following story, at 17, the protagonist describes parking in a quiet spot with her current boyfriend and being caught almost in the act by Officer Fenster. In a subsequent chapter, she is a college freshman when her father dies suddenly; the grieving family is sustained not just by relatives and friends, but by the whole community. Growing up in a family and town such as this one rings true for the `60s, and the characters are just as real and revealing today.
Review by Linda Stankard, June 2000.
If you’re feeling stressed, but can’t afford that getaway weekend in the Caribbean — don’t despair. Grab your lawnchair, find a patch of filtered sun, inhale deeply and enter Karen Stolz’s World of Pies. Although set in the turbulent ’60s, this novel about growing up in a small Texas town will fill you with a sweet nostalgia that goes down as easily as Mabel’s Angel Food Cake with Chocolate Sauce. (Recipe included!) Comfort food recipes are, in fact, sprinkled throughout World of Pies, but Stolz’s real accomplishment in this taste-tempting first novel is the delicious batch of episodes she has baked up for us about the life of Roxanne Milner, a baseball-loving tomboy whose first-person narrative rings with the honest emotions — the exhilaration and devastation, the confusion and wonder — of growing up.
In the hot summer of ’61, 12-year-old Roxanne would rather be out pitching balls to her cousin Tommy than in the kitchen rolling pie dough, but the ensuing pie fair has the townswomen in a baking frenzy as they strive to perfect their individual recipes for the contest. But “at the eleventh hour,” to her mother’s delight and her own surprise, Roxanne develops an interest in the art that affords the mother a chance to teach and the daughter to learn. “And it happened,” she says, amazed at her ability to be gentle and precise. “I got the feel of the dough and learned how to make a decent piecrust.”
The lessons she learns are not confined to the kitchen as race becomes a factor in the pie contest, the Vietnam War looms, and she gets her first, less-than-riveting kiss. While trying to figure out boys, and believing she will never look “right,” Roxanne experiences the consequences of taking a stand against racism in her small hometown, she gains insight into the complexities of her parents’ marriage and eventually explores her own burgeoning awareness of the increasingly attractive opposite sex. Stolz packs a lot into 153 pages. Written with a flair for understatement and the telling detail, this humorous, relationship-rich tale is wholly satisfying. It may be a slim volume, but I found it a deep dish, full of insight into the human heart. You’ll want to savor Roxanne’s adventures along with her recipes, so you may want to bake ahead. Then you won’t have to stop turning pages to check the oven! Lemonade, anyone?