Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Review of '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 that 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 there are some secrets that even her taste buds cannot discern.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the heartbreak of loving those whom you know too much about.  It is profound and funny, wise and sad, and it confirms Aimee Bender's places as a writer whose dazzling prose illustrates the strangeness of everyday life."

It took me months and months to finish this.  it's a relief that I'd finally completed it.

The concept of this book was interesting-- I've never read a YA novel where the protagonist could taste different things in food.  Not just what makes up the food she's eating, as far as ingredients goes, but how the chef was feeling or what they were thinking while they were making this food.  She could tell if the ingredients were organic or sometimes what the people who harvested the ingredients were like.  She could even tell where some of the ingredients came from.

When a friend showed me this book at Half-Price books, it definitely sounded interesting and I was excited to read it!  But as I got into the book, there were several things that made this a kind of disappointing read.

First, Rose was a very passive-feeling character.  She felt like an observer more than someone who actually engages and has an opinion.  She was timid, which is fine, but it might have been better if she wasn't the narrator...

It also didn't feel like there were any real enemies in this book.  Tricky personalities and some annoying people, certainly, but no character interactions that had me gnashing my teeth out of anger or anxiety.  Overall, the characters were nice, but I didn't get that emotional provocation that I just adore getting out of any book I read.  Take Benjamin Button, for example.  I hated almost all of the characters, primarily Benjamin as he got older.  But I thought that book was pretty darn good because it made me so emotional that I wanted to throw the book across the room a la The Silver Lining's Playbook.

I was also a little put off because the book didn't seem to have a goal in mind.  Rose didn't really understand her ability and her brother kept disappearing and you can't help but wonder, "what is this all about?"  But then you don't find out until the end and it's disappointing.  It's just characters going through life.  Rose doesn't have very many prospects for herself and her brother retreats even more than he did before...

Overall, this was a disappointing read.  I will probably try more of Aimee Bender's writing, but this book just didn't do anything for me.

I give 'The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake':
Thanks for Reading!


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