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Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Rating: 2 out of 5.


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. – Goodreads


Until about halfway through this book I liked it a lot. The premise is unique and I enjoyed Bender’s easy writing style.

However, the story doesn’t actually go anywhere. Rose gets dumped off into the background to focus on her brother, which I understand since she’s obviously felt overshadowed by him her whole life, but then his bizarre​ issue is never truly explained and the entire story line felt unnecessary to the original idea.

The surreal parts, which initially pulled me into this book, honestly could have been replaced with normal issues and had the exact same results. You should not be able to take out the magical realism aspects and still have essentially the same work.

Finally, at just under 300 pages, the book was too long. The second half dragged on as if once Bender had made the decision to make it a full length book nothing was going to stop her from hitting that word count. If this had been a short story focused more on Rose it would have had the potential to be excellent.