In The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake a young girl plans to surprise her mother with a birthday cake baked from great-grandma’s long-lost recipe. Rooting about in the attic, she discovers the recipe — minus one mysterious ingredient. Great-grandma has hidden the secret because the whole recipe is so irresistible ”to man and beast, woman and bird” that it’s dangerous.
So far, so fey. But when the girl (we never do learn her name) finds the secret and it turns out to be writing ”love” backwards in spilled sugar before stirring the batter, the story threatens to buckle under the weight of its relentless whimsy.
Three angels come to the rescue. They’re lured from heaven by the smell of the baking cake, and they’re truly wonderful. Watson’s luminous paintings reveal the angels to be a tall blond man, an Asian girl, and a little African-American girl — all of them dazzling in their swirl of wings and light. Willard’s prose rises to their presence, suddenly taking off with a delicious blend of fantasy and down-to-earth irony.
The angels create both chaos and magic, and the story ends with a happy family birthday breakfast graced by a special — maybe even heavenly — surprise. Cake is definitely as odd as its title, but it’s odd in a satisfying way. B+