The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

the particular sadness of lemon cake

For nine year old Rose, having her mother bake her favourite lemon cake for her birthday is a real treat, until the day she bites into it and can feel all of her mother’s despair and sadness in the otherwise tasty morsel. At first confused, Rose has trouble grasping the incongruence between these feelings and her mother’s outward appearance of a happy can-do woman, but as the story progresses, she learns to deal with what she learns through eating, not only her mother’s cooking, but that of others as well.  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender is at times a fascinating tale of magical realism. Through Rose’s unique talent the reader is reminded that we are not always as we seem on the outside, who knows what feelings lurk beneath the sunny exterior of the coffee barista, or the unhappy cookie baker.

I did enjoy Rose’s storyline, how she discovered what she could feel in different foods, how she learned to process that as a child and how it affected her relationship with her mother. I found I could really imagine how Rose felt every time she ate something, and I would wonder what she would get from the food she was eating, how it would make her feel.

However, I found the storyline of Joseph, Rose’s brother, a little odd and it took some time to sort out what was going on with him. Joseph frequently just disappears and then reappears, without explanation.  Not only does he disappear, but also he is able to morph into the form of an object in the room. It was, in my opinion, farfetched and did not really add anything to Rose’s story or to the book. Perhaps it is just me that found the ability to taste people’s feelings as plausible, but to understand the mysterious disappearances of Joseph took more belief than I could muster. It is possible that the Joseph story was never really developed or fully explained as why he needed to disappear, while the reader delves deeply into Rose, her feelings and her ability. Either way, it did not add anything to my reading experience.

This book is a good read for those who enjoy a bit of surrealism and secrecy mixed with a bit of magic.

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