The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

BLOG“It happened for the first time on a Tuesday…”

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a charming story that follows a girl named Rose, who can taste people’s emotions through the food they make along with the origins and components of the ingredients used.  It is an odd ability that she discovers at eight-years-old when her mother bakes her a lemon cake with chocolate frosting for her birthday.  In it she feels her mother’s loneliness and sadness, and the discovery of this ability alters her life.

The story develops from there with Rose showing us glimpses of her life, from the age of eight up until her early twenties.  We get to see her coping with her ability and the difficulties of being exposed to very complex adult emotions at such a young age. While this is an important part of the book, there are so many more elements to it.  We meet her brother Joseph who is five years older and quite introverted.  He is incredibly intelligent but appears to suffer from a form of social anxiety and is removed from the world.  Her mother is depressed and restless in her role and her marriage is in a difficult place.  Her father is not very communicative and does not connect in a personal or in-depth way to his family.  We also meet Joseph’s best and only friend George, who is incredibly intelligent as well but does not suffer from Joseph’s anxieties.

What unfolds is a story that gives an insight into all these characters and how they exist together but never truly connect.  A story that captures and expresses emotions so beautifully.  The writing style used is unique in that the author does not use quotation marks in the dialogue, which I felt worked well overall.  It sets a certain distance between the characters and the reader where we become silent observers and can appreciate the story as a whole.  I absolutely fell in love with this book and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Favourite passage: “When I crossed the street, according to my mother, I still had to hold someone’s hand.  At ten, I would be able to cross streets unhanded.  I’d held on to Joseph’s many times before, for many years, but holding his was like holding a plant, and the disappointment of fingers that didn’t grasp back was so acute that at some point I’d opted to take his forearm instead.  For the first few street crossings, that’s what I did, but on the corner at Oakwood, on an impulse, I grabbed George’s hand.  Right away: fingers, holding back.  The sun.  More clustery vines of bougainvillea draping over windows in bulges of dark pink.  His warm palm.  An orange tabby lounging on the sidewalk.  People in torn black T-shirts sitting and smoking on steps.  The city, opening up.

We hit the sidewalk, and dropped hands.  How I wished, right then, that the whole world was a street.” 

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