The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

A Novel

Book - 2010
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The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse.

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.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them. It is heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad, and confirms Aimee Bender's place as "a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language" ( San Francisco Chronicle ).
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, c2010.
ISBN: 9780385501125
Characteristics: 292 p. ;,22 cm.


From the critics

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Jun 05, 2019

This was one of the best books I've read recently. About mid way through the book I felt like part of the plot was "done", and a new part of the book revealed itself. It's about "special" ability, family relationships, fear. About being different and how that is inherited, sometimes hidden, and how some people respond to realizing they are different. I loved this book, the way it was sad and happy at the same time. And I also loved that I didn't know what turns it would take. After years of reading, I am so tired of being able to predict endings, and I enjoy being surprised.

May 23, 2019

I thought the language and imagery were simply lovely, and the sensitivity Bender treats her characters are heartfelt. I loved the first 1/3 I was just soaking in the character development with its hints of foreboding, but then it just started feeling drawn out and lose focus. George's ending just seemed slapped on and written just to have closure, for instance.

AnaGM May 22, 2019

This could have been a really good book, and it started it out well, but then it went to the toilet with all the other waste

Jan 17, 2019

I'm usually a fan of magical realism, because I enjoy whimsy now and then. Sometimes magical realism is in darker, grittier novels (like Broken Monsters), and that's very fun as well. But this....this just fell flat.

I think the story is mostly a tragedy. I kept waiting for the MC to grow a bit...and she does, at the very end, in that she becomes a little more compassionate and vulnerable. But honestly, it didn't seem like that much of a hero's journey. There's a lot of just bizarre things happening, with no closure. And also, the MC's parents are fairly terrible at parenting.

In the end, this left me feeling primarily unfulfilled, and was a bit of a slog to finish.

Jan 13, 2019

Totally bizarre and somewhat cool. Super senses! Taste and Touch are the primary senses used by the main characters. Sort of spooky, but also thought provoking!

Dec 07, 2018

A fairy tale for adults, with a difficult to ascertain moral. It is worth the time investment (about 5 or 6 hours) to see if you agree with the one-star people or the five-star people. The writing itself is lovely, and if there had been quotation marks around the spoken words, I'd probably have given the book 4 1/2 stars myself. I am not a fan of experimental punctuation, but found the experimental story line intriguing.

Jan 17, 2018

If this book were a food it would've been Pringles. Shoulda named it "The sadness of extremely boring, hollow people living in Los Angeles." Was 2010 a slow year for publishing?

May 26, 2017

Okay, spoilers ahead:

I gave this book 1 stars because while it started well, and had writing that flowed (easy to read and get lost in), the book lost me about 1/3 of the way in. I'm compelled to finish books I start unless they're horrendous, so I did read the entire book and I just felt... unsatisfied.

I didn't really connect or relate to any of the characters. I thought the fact that the mother had an affair and it never caused issues was unrealistic. I find the dad's complete lack of concern over his wife's growing distance to be really weird. At the beginning of the book, Rose seems to feel too much, but half-way through, she lost emotional depth to me. It felt like her big personality had become dulled and her emotions has numbed.

The writing was poetic and interesting, but the plot was... unusual. Unusual in the "this may have been meant to be intriguing and a metaphor, but I'm just confused and baffled and it's actually funny but also cringe-worthy". I think it's really bad when readers find something funny that the writer did not intend to be funny.

There were two stories that were wrapped up together in the end, but the way it was done felt rushed, and incomplete, unfinished. It felt like one of the plots was not really an essential part of the book, that it could have been a separate book or just been dropped completely. It would have been a different, perhaps more emotional book, if the plot about Joseph was left out. There could have been more exploration of Rose's growth.

There was also a point in the book, while Rose is considering her mother's bond with Joseph, where she calls it incestuous how Joseph would help her mother remove splinters and that honestly gave me the heebie-jeebies.

On the upside, it was a really short book and I finished it in less than 24 hrs.

TLDR; Unless you really have to read this book, I would skip it and find a more enjoyable one.

Jan 03, 2017

Aimee Bender, the author of this book, writes her characters amazingly and they each develop in their own ways to become very well rounded. Rose Edelstein, the main character of this story, is a nine year old girl with an odd gift that she definitely does not expect. When she tastes her mother’s homemade lemon cake with chocolate icing, she finds out she can taste her mom’s and everyone else who makes the food she eats’ emotions. This is a book i would recommend to anyone interested in a book about the troubles of family life and growing up.

**the rest of this review contains spoilers**

The particular sadness of a lemon cake is about a young girl named Rose Edelstein and her relationship with food. It begins with Rose‘s ninth birthday, where she realizes she can taste the feelings of whoever has made her food after taking a bite of her seemingly cheerful mother’s lemon chocolate cake and tasting her sadness and despair. She starts tasting her mother’s feelings with every family meal, and it starts to affect her. The sensory overload that came with knowing of the feelings of everyone that has made her food begins to be too much for her and she starts feeling sick and only eating machine-made foods from vending machines. Fortunately, Rose Edelstein‘s brother and his best friend help her test out her new skill, and in the end she is able to perfect her abilities.

-Reviewed by Jazmine for the Teen Leadership Council.

Jul 12, 2016

The first third of the book was amazing--just the concept and trying to figure out where it was going...however it didn't finish as strongly to me and seemed more like a chronicle of different mental illnesses and how people may not address them because they don't know they are there or know that they need addressing because they are so far in them in their every day norm. It was...interesting...hit a lot of triggers for me personally that were painful.

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Age Suitability

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Jun 10, 2014

emkenny78 thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 13 and 99

Jun 05, 2013

BlueBee8279 thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

Crheneghan Feb 03, 2011


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Crheneghan Feb 03, 2011

Coarse Language: This title contains Coarse Language.

Crheneghan Feb 03, 2011

Sexual Content: This title contains Sexual Content.

Crheneghan Feb 03, 2011

Violence: This title contains Violence.


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Jul 12, 2016

"'Sometimes, she said, mostly to herself, I feel I do not know my children.' was a fleeting statement, one I didn't think she'd hold on to; after all, she had birthed us alone, diapered and fed us, helped us with homework, kissed and hugged us, poured her love into us. That she might not actually know us seemed the humblest thing a mother could admit...and it was the first thing she'd said in a very long time that I could take in whole."

JennBecker Jun 07, 2012

"If anyone had been crying for any reason, he'd pull out a tissue and pat down our cheeks and say salt was for meat, not faces" Rose - on her father


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DanniOcean Jun 24, 2010

When she turns nine, Rose Edelstein discovers she has a remarkable gift. In whatever she eats, she can taste the mood of whoever made the food. Unfortunately, what she tastes most often is despair, longing, hurt, or emptiness – so her gift is actually a curse. Only one person believes her, her brother’s brilliant best friend. One person ignores her, her nearly-brilliant brother. Her vibrant mother frets, her distant father placates. As Rose matures, so does her talent, until she can taste individual ingredients, tell where they came from, and even which farm or factory. But always there is the human element in the food that tastes of something sad, and always Rose must mask the nature of her gift by eating pre-packaged junk food. However, when her detached brother begins to disappear for days at a time, Rose begins to realize that she may not be the only person in her family with a peculiar talent, and that hers may not be the most painful. The story is told from Rose’s rather neurotic perspective, but the author uses the unusual convention of no quotation marks to indicate when a character is speaking, so the reader must pay closer attention to the narrative, pay closer attention to who is saying what. But as Rose discovers, being able to taste people’s moods is no more revealing the words they speak, and it certainly gives her no power to prevent or correct the sadness she senses in others. The central character of the first part of the novel is her mother, the climax of the novel involves her brother, but the mystery behind her own talent is solved from an entirely unexpected quarter. With this revelation Rose stops resenting both her gift and herself, and learns to appreciate the uniqueness of both. Funny, heartbreaking and mysterious, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a surreal tale comparable to The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman or The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry.

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