Summary: 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. -- Doubleday
I have heard so many wonderful things about Aimee Bender, but I had never experienced one of her novels. So when I decided to host the 2010 EW Summer Books Reading Challenge, I started with Ms. Bender's latest novel THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE. I can certainly see what all of the buzz was about -- Ms. Bender is a very gifted writer.
I'm not sure that I would go so far as to say that I loved THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE, but I did appreciate it -- especially the writing. I think the cover and title might have thrown me for a loop because I was expecting a lighter read. But this novel definitely didn't classify as a light read (or at least it didn't for me.) It was a beautifully written novel that touched my heart and really caused me to think.
One of the things that I most appreciated about this novel was the story line itself. I loved the idea that a young girl named Rose discovers that she has a gift -- she can tell the emotions of the person who prepared her food. At first, I thought it sounded like a wonderful and fun gift to have, but it actually ended up being quite a burden for poor little Rose. Rose ended up finding out heartbreaking secrets about her family, and then she had to learn how to cope with knowing these things.
I really enjoyed how the author incorporated some magical elements into this story, and I think it was very well done (and believable.) I love that how Ms. Bender showed how much a "gift" can affect our lives, and how we sometimes get "gifts" that we don't want. I loved her use of symbolism in this novel, and I thought Rose's path demonstrated the challenges we all face with knowing too much about our loved ones. This might sound strange but as I'm writing this review, I'm realizing that I maybe I did like this book more than I first realized!
In some ways, I considered THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE to be a coming-of-age story for Rose; but it was actually so much more than that. Rose was at an age in this story (nine years old) where a child starts seeing their parents and their life in a new light. However with the on-set of her "gift", Rose is forced into these realizations as well as the need to cope with them instantly. Throughout the novel, Rose not only has to learn to live with her knowledge, but she also has to learn how to accept and forgive her loved ones. It's a lesson that is true for all of us -- Rose's life just demonstrated it in a more drastic way.
There is no doubt that Ms. Bender can write! I am actually very interested in pursuing some of her other novels. I loved how she brought Rose to life and I thought she did a wonderful job of capturing her voice. Many of the passages in this novel were beautifully written and reading her prose was certainly a treat. I just know that every character, every scene and probably every word were in this novel to invoke a particular meaning.
THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE would make an excellent discussion book for book clubs. There is a reading guide available which will definitely help making sure you get the most our of your meeting. I suggest taking a look at the questions, so you can have an idea how how much this book encompasses because I don't think I did a very good job of showing this in my review. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include loss of innocence, acceptance, forgiveness, coping mechanisms, honestly, and family dynamics to name a few. If your group enjoys discussing literary novels, than I highly suggest taking a look at this one.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this novel.