Friday, March 9, 2012

“Many kids, it seemed, would find out that their parents were flawed, messed-up people later in life, and I didn't appreciate getting to know it all so strong and early.”

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
292 pages
Genre:  Contemporary; Magical Realism; Food
Summary:  On her 9th birthday, Rose Edelstein acquires a peculiar new skill:  she can taste the emotions a person had while preparing a dish.  It didn’t matter if it was something she had previously enjoyed; if the person was unhappy while making the food, she didn’t want to eat it.  This led Rose to eat mostly processed, manufactured food because she hated knowing too much about people’s inner lives.  Will she ever be able to feel normal again?
Review:  I’m a big fan of magical realism (and food), so I was pretty excited to give The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake a try.  On the whole, I found this to be a rather enjoyable read.
The plot was an intriguing one, and I don’t recall coming across anything quite like it before.  I thought it was so interesting that Rose could discern people’s innermost emotions through their food, regardless of her connection to said people.  If I was faced with the same burden, I may have done just what she had as a teenager and opted for processed food.  It’s not the healthiest choice, of course, but at least one wouldn’t be in a constant state of turmoil.
This book was primarily about family and the secrets that we keep from one another, and I thought Bender did a really great job in presenting this theme to the reader.  I enjoyed accompanying Rose on her journey as she tried to make sense of everything she was picking up from the food, and I really felt bad for her when it wasn’t a positive emotion.  Of particular interest to me was what she was able to ascertain about her mother, and the fact that she kept that hidden so well was quite commendable, indeed.
I enjoyed the passages with her brother, Joseph, quite a bit.  Joseph was a really interesting character, and I liked that he was rather elusive, an enigma.  The reader never knew what he would do or say next, and it kept the story interesting.
While there was a lot I liked about The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, I felt as if the story was unfinished somehow, and I wish more would have been explained.  Additionally, while I enjoyed reading it in the moment, I’m not sure how well I’ll remember it years from now.  It read more like a tasty, guilty pleasure rather than something that really had a lot of meat to digest.
If you’re looking for something light that’s a bit out of the norm, try The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  Be sure to have a snack at the ready, too, because all of this food talk will probably make you hungry.
Rating: 3/5
Read-alike:  The Sugar Queen – Sarah Addison Allen


  1. This book sounds so interesting! And I just love the title of it! It's on the buy 2 get 3rd free table, so I might just have to buy it soon.