Skip to main content

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

picture of book cover

If there is anything that embarrasses me as a book reviewer (other than how behind I get on reviews), it's when I honestly don't understand a central plot point or theme in a book.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake follows a family where the main character, Rose, has an unusual gift: she can discern the emotions of the person who prepared the food, and the story behind the food itself, such as what factory it came from. She first discovers this at age 9 when her mother bakes her a lemon cake, and Rose can taste her mother's unhappiness. The first half of this book hums along as Rose grows up and tries to find a way to manage her gift/curse. There's a brief but heartbreaking section where Rose finally makes another female friend, but the friendship quickly dissolves as Rose discovers she's being used. When Rose tries to connect to her parents or taciturn brother Joseph, the story is engrossing. Bender's character development is wonderful and the magical realism elements are generally enjoyable and believable.

 But the second half the book largely revolves around Joseph, and it's a plot development that I honestly did not understand. Without giving too much away, let's just say that I'm not sure if Joseph is supposed to have his own gift that allows him to escape his unhappiness, or whether his gift is a metaphor. Of course, it's also possible that Joseph's story falls flat because it requires too much of a suspension of disbelief. Still, while I did not enjoy The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake as much as An Invisible Sign of My Own: A Novel , I think fans of that novel would enjoy it. It certainly would be good for a book club, as there are many questions to discuss around food, emotion, escape and family. While I ended up not being blown away by this book, Bender is a talented, under-recognized writer, and I look forward to see what she comes up with next.