Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Summary (courtesy of 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. 

And here's what I thought:  I had been waiting for this book to arrive at the library, because after I read a few reviews, I was completely intrigued by the story.   And once I started reading, I couldn't put it down.  Lucky for me, I had a long weekend, so I was able to immerse myself in this book.    Aimee Bender has created a story where there's great characters, and a little bit of magic, and a lot of emotion.   As the summary mentions, Rose discovers that when she tastes food, she can taste the emotions of whoever prepared the food (her mother, staff at a bakery, etc).   And, this isn't a good thing --- because sometimes, the emotion is unpleasant, completely overwhelming Rose, and making it difficult to eat at all.  As she gets older, Rose is able to refine her unusual sense of taste, although she turns to junk food at times, just to eat something barely touched by human hands.    However, even though she can refine how she processes the emotions she tastes, she never stops having this experience when she eats.   This means that she is privy to her mother's emotional life as she grows up --- and her mother isn't happy.   On the surface, of course, things appear fine, but Rose knows better.   Imagine the burden this puts on a child, knowing the inner life of one of your parents.

I felt that Aimee Bender wrote a wonderful, creative story.  Rose is a well-written character, interesting and sympathetic.     However, Rose isn't the only interesting character in this story.   While her father seems pretty normal (more or less), and her mother is hiding her unhappiness, it's Rose's brother who is hiding a secret as big as the one Rose is hiding about herself.   It's not quite clear at first what's going on with Rose's brother Joseph, but it's obvious that while he's a genius, that his social skills are a little.... rough.   And, once in a while, he just takes off, which gets a little creepy.   It's not always easy to see what's going to happen next in this story, and that just kept me reading, and reading.   Wonderful, creative storytelling here!  

    I did have a few moments reading this story where I felt a connection to another character in a different book: Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood.   There is absolutely nothing similar between Rose and the main character in the Atwood book, except for the fact that both are young girls who have very strong powers of observation (and genius-level, unusual brothers).  I also had a flashback to Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (where there is also an emotional connection with food).   

Where I got this book:  Library!


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