Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender

Summary: 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 slice.

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. Anything can be revealed at any meal. She can't eat her brother Joseph's toast; a cookie at the local bakery is laced with rage; grape jelly is packed with acidic resentment.

Rose's gift forces her to confront the secret knowledge all families keep hidden - truths about her mother's life outside the home, her father's strange detachment, Joseph's clash with the world.

Yet as Rose grows up, she realizes that are some secrets that even her taste buds cannot discern.
Summary from book jacket, cover photo from

My Review: As Rose turns nine she becomes aware that she is able to taste how people are feeling in the food they make. This happens the first time as she tastes despair in the lemon cake her mother has prepared for her ninth birthday. Despair, longing, anger, sadness, pride, and fear all come calling with each bite Rose takes. As Rose secretly struggles with her power, her family begins to break apart.

The idea for this novel was fantastic. What would it be like to taste secret desires in the food prepared for you? It opened at a comfortable pace allowing the reader to become acquainted with Rose but by midway the story seemed to drift away from Rose and her tasting power. Instead the story began to center around the depression in Rose's family. The book became melancholy and difficult to read.

Then the novel took a drastic turn toward science fiction as it began to focus on Rose's brother, Joseph, who had been a very minor character up until this point. As his magical powers were introduced the tale became just flat out weird. The story managed to recover a bit near the end yet still fell short of it's potential.

The writing style in this book was a bit awkward as it lacked flow and quotation marks. The characters felt one dimensional and superficial, it's not until the last 50 pages that I felt any connection to them and it was a minor one at that. In the end I was left questioning "what was that?". Certainly not what I had expected.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars; a five star idea with two star execution

To sum it up: Not as tasty as one would expect.


Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

This has been the darling of so many book blogs...but also a wide variety of opinions...I've heard that it was odd...I have it on my shelf...I'm still tempted to read it.

Melissa Paul said...

Lack of quotations in dialog in this book was SO ANNOYING! To me that's just sloppy, lazy writing. What's wrong with the publisher to let that go? Was there no editing at all? I had to keep going back and re-reading to try to figure out what she was thinking and what was spoken out loud, and it served no actual purpose to the plot to omit.
Also, what's up with Rose going from tasting the emotions of the food to the emotions of the individual ingredients? ("This melancholy orange is from Florida")
Completely agree with your review! A great idea that got way off track. I'd love to see what a writer like Sarah Addison Allen would do with this same concept.


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