The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Cover image and synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
This is one of those books that took me a little bit to get into but once I did, I was hooked. The book mainly follows Rose and her discovery of her ability to taste someone’s emotions in the food they’ve made, and what she learns through this ability about other people – particularly her family: her mother, her father, and her brother. I’ve never read anything else that Aimee Bender has written, but based on this I would. She is a really great writer, the characters stayed with me after I finished, and the story was certainly unlike anything else I’ve read.
I’ve read some other reviews by people who felt that the subplot involving Rose’s brother, Joseph, was uninteresting or confusing, but I couldn’t disagree more. That was the part of the book that I wanted more of, and Joseph is the character that had the greatest impact on me. I don’t want to give away any details, so I’ll just say that Joseph’s isolation and then ultimate resolution made me so sad, and yet I think it was what he wanted. I was left wanting to know more about what was happening to him and his ability, and why he ultimately wanted what he did, but I don’t think that’s a flaw in the story. I think it showed that no matter how much Rose was able to learn about those around her, even she could not fully understand her brother.
I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something a little different. If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought in the comments!