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21 February 2012

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Review

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Publication date: 01 June 2010 by Doubleday
ISBN 10/13: 0385501129 | 9780385501125

Category: Adult Contemporary Fiction
Keywords: Contemporary, fiction, family, magical realism
Format: Hardcover, paperback, audiobook, eBook

From goodreads:

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein 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. To her horror, she finds that her cheerful mother tastes of despair. Soon, she’s privy to the secret knowledge that most families keep hidden: her father’s detachment, her mother’s transgression, her brother’s increasing retreat from the world. But there are some family secrets that even her cursed taste buds can’t discern.

**Please note that this review does contain SPOILERS. Normally we try to keep things fairly spoiler free but in this case, I couldn't avoid it. Read at your own risk**

Thuy's review:

I wanted to like this book. I really did. I mean, it has lemon cake in the title. Automatic win, right? Unfortunately the author starts out with an interesting premise but doesn't do much with it.

When Rose turns 9, she suddenly finds herself with the ability to taste the emotions of the person who made the food. Her first discovery is the unbearable loneliness of her mother. Young Rose doesn't know what to make of her new skill and takes to eating processed junk food. As time goes on, she shares her ability with her brother and his friend George. After a few experiments with her new power, the author largely leaves it behind and delves into other aspects of Rose's family dynamic.

The issue of her abilities emerges again some years later when Rose tastes in her mother's cooking, the beginnings of an affair. Instead of it being some kind of traumatic or emotional discovery, Rose takes it calmly and is, in fact, glad that her mother now has someone else to lavish her baked goods on as it saves her from having to taste her mother's emotions. This part bothered me because I just felt like she should have had a bigger reaction to her mother having an affair. Even years later, when she tells her mother she's known all along, it's with a cold calmness and air of indifference.

Then there's her brother, Joe, who has a special ability of his own. This part is a bit creepy. After years of odd behavior, Rose finally figures out what Joe has been up to. In the end, she’s the only one who knows and she decides to keep his secret. We never find out much more about his abilities or what they mean. The fact that it’s left open ended is frustrating. We also find out that Rose's grandfather had an amazing ability as well. Seems like these weird powers run in the family. Because of her grandfather, Rose's dad barely bats an eye when he finds out about her food tasting ability. He doesn't seem to make the connection with her fit at the hospital years before or her affinity for processed foods. He understands that it makes her life difficult but he doesn't probe too much. And then we find out that he thinks he might have a skill, too, but that it has to take place in a hospital. So he has avoided hospitals all his life, even going so far as to stand in the parking lot during his children's births and illnesses. While I understand his position, seeing how hard his father's life with his skill was, I also find it extremely selfish that he might be able to help people and consciously chose not to even try.

Unfortunately I found The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake to be an unsatisfying read.Though there were some interesting parts, the characters and premise were never fully developed and left too much unresolved. 

Visit the author online at www.flammableskirt.com

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