The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: Behind the quirky title and the gimmicky idea, this is a story about growing up in a dysfunctional family.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Windmill Books
ISBN: 978-0099538271

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The title of this novel first caught my eye. How can food feel emotions?

Actually, it is Rose who discovers that when she is eating she can taste the feelings of the person who cooked or prepared the food. I was a bit worried that this initial gimmick of the book from which the title is taken would become annoying, but really this is another very well-written and readable novel about growing up in a dysfunctional family. Rose is about to turn 9 at the beginning, and comes home to find her mother making her birthday cake. She can't resist tasting the cake, and at first it is delicious: Warm citrus-baked batter lightness enfolded by cool deep dark swirled sugar. But then she has the sensation of shrinking, of upset, tasting a distance I somehow knew was connected to my mother.

This unpleasantness starts to develop in all her food – she is picking up her mother's guilt, and a while later she learns of the reasons for it. Rose starts living on snack foods and doing everything she can to avoid home cooked food – the feelings of a far away factory worker are easier to deal with than those of family.

The story, set in California, takes place over more than ten years, as Rose grows up. The family is further fractured by the strange behaviour of Rose's big brother Joseph, who becomes increasingly withdrawn and introverted, wanting to be alone so badly that he moves out. His best friend George becomes a good friend to Rose as well, but her problems with food and feelings threaten to overwhelm her.

As well as the conceit of Rose's inconvenient ability to taste emotions, there are other points in the storyline where the reader is required to suspend disbelief. However, what sounds like a gimmick in the title and initial description of the novel becomes a powerful story of difficult family relationships, of tensions and secrets and the damage they cause. There are a lot of negative emotions swirling around this story and it is not the most cheerful of reads. I found the writing and characterisation compelling, and the resolution simultaneously sad yet hopeful, as it at least points to the prospect of Rose finally being ready, in her early twenties,to move on to another stage in her life.

Thank you to Windmill Books for sending a copy of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake to The Bookbag.

Another story of growing up in an American family is The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno. The Favorites by Mary Yukari Waters is a coming of age story about a Japanese-American girl staying with her mother's family in Japan and learning their secrets.

Buy The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender at Amazon.com.


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