01 May 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

      Review by Erin Collazo:
     When Rose is nine, she acquires a strange ability -- she can taste the feelings of the person who prepares her food. In fact, she not only tastes the feelings of the chef, she can taste feelings from the people who picked the fruit or milled the flour or had any role in producing any of the base ingredients. This ability, as you can imagine, complicates her life. She learns more about people than she wants to know. She is especially disturbed by deep sadness within her mother.
      Rose is an easy character to like, and Aimee Bender develops her voice well. Bender also writes some concrete episodes in Rose's day-to-day life to illustrate what Rose is experiencing. Overall, though, I felt a little rushed in getting to know Rose. The novel follows Rose from age 9 to adulthood, so it is more of an overview rather than an intimate portrait.
      Rose's brother, Joseph, also seems to have unusual abilities. In fact, Joseph's disappearances drive the second half of the novel. Although this provides some suspense in the plot, in the end I wished there were a little more meat to the character development. Joseph was pretty flat, yet much of Rose's (and the novels) development depended on him.
It may seem as if I did not like The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. In fact, I enjoyed the novel. Sometimes, though, fast food can taste good while you are eating it, but after it sits in your stomach you feel the effects of too much grease and sodium. Lemon Cake is a fun indulgence, but I wish Bender had gone even deeper with her creative idea.

The Bottom Line

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender has generated a lot of buzz. Some have hailed it as one of the best books of 2010. Much of the appeal of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, it seems to me, is in its unique premise and easy to read narrative. Perhaps that is enough to make it a buzz-worthy book. I would certainly recommend it for your beach bag or book club. I enjoyed The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, however, after the book had settled, I realized it was, in fact, more like dessert or a snack than a substantial meal. It is fun, but may not stick with you long.


  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake has a unique premise that is interesting to consider.
  • There is a likable narrative voice.
  • There is a good mix of revelation and mystery in the end.


  • In some ways the book does not feel filled out enough, as if there is a rush to the end.
  • Joseph's "gift" was perhaps a little too absurd for me.
  • A week after finishing the book, it was not particularly memorable anymore.

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