One morning, while staying at her best friend Marlee Rosen's house, eleven-year-old Cara Segal learns that her house has caught fire overnight, killing her mother, her eight-year-old sister Janie, and their cat Sport. Her father, the only survivor, retreats into himself from grief. When a cookie order comes in for her mother's catering business, Julia's Kitchen, Cara decides to try to rebuild the business.
Julia's Kitchen contains examples of:
- Alliterative Family: Marlee, her older brother Max, and her mother Minnie.
- Big Sister Instinct: With Janie dead, Cara transfers hers to Janie's best friend Justin Wittenberg.
- Cardiovascular Love: The Heart Symbol cookie on the cover presumably represents familial love, given the family themes of the story.
- Crisis of Faith: Cara wonders how God could possibly let something so horrible happen, and spends some time as an atheist as a result.
- Cry into Chest: Cara buries her face in her maternal grandmother Bubbe's neck, and they both cry together.
- Heroic Fire Rescue: Attempted by Cara's mom, who escaped the house safely but ran back in for Janie.
- House Fire: It was started in the early morning by a spark from the toaster oven. It badly damaged the first floor, caused structural damage to the second, and destroyed almost all their belongings that weren't in a closed drawer or a box.
- Jacob and Esau: Cara always felt that her mother preferred her, and her father preferred Janie. It was all fair until the fire, but now she struggles to connect with her father.
- Manly Tears: After the funeral, Cara is shocked to see her father crying into a pillow.
- Siblings Wanted: Cara's maternal grandfather, Zayde, tells her how her mom ran away once to protest being an only child.
- Signature Scent: Cara's mom smelled of vanilla from working in the kitchen. Janie smelled of erasers, which she collected.
- Too Unhappy to Be Hungry: Cara learns about the fire on Sunday morning, before breakfast. She doesn't eat again until Monday night.