Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.
The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.
Any book that has food in the title tends to catch my eye almost immediately. A large slice of yellow cake coated in chocolate icing and topped with a single birthday candle graced the cover of this book and seemed to call to me from afar. But the title, strange as it may be, was ultimately what caused me to take it home from the library—The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. After reading the book synopsis, I couldn’t wait to take this novel home and get started on reading. But there is more than meets the eye when it comes to The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.
On her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein obtains a very unique ability—she is able to taste the emotions of the person who prepares her food. It begins with her mother’s lemon cake with chocolate icing, a cake that leaves Rose feeling empty and sad. Her brother thinks that she is crazy and his best friend continues to help her experiment with taste testing sessions throughout the restaurants in greater Los Angeles.
Over time she grows and her ability grows with her, becoming part of her until she decides that she will only eat food from vending machines and prepackaged meals. Her senses are so heightened that she is able to break down the ingredients into the regions that they came from. Forced to endure the speculation of her brother, her unrequited love for his best friend, her mother’s life outside of their home, and her father’s distant demeanor, Rose must harness her abilities while keeping the secrets that every bite of food reveals to her.
While there are many intriguing aspects of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, I found it to be an unsatisfying read as a whole. There were several aspects of this novel that were quite enjoyable (the humor, the setting, Rose’s point of view, and the quirkiness of the plot) but as a whole it left me feeling like the lemon chocolate cake that Rose’s mother made—unfulfilled. Of all the characters I found Rose to be the only likeable one. The language and grammar utilized by the author makes this book a little difficult to read, it simply does not have a steady flow that keeps you turning page after page. The concept of the book was brilliant, but the execution left much to be desired. Three quarters of the way through the book the storyline takes an unexpected turn and veers into the truly bizarre and unexplained. The book ends with many unresolved issues and unanswered questions which, again, leaves the reader feeling unfulfilled and, in a way, cheated.