Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is magically real, really magical, and magic realism. It is the story of Rose, who can taste the emotions and secrets of the person who prepares the food she eats. She becomes so attuned to food that she is eventually able to taste the actual origin of each individual ingredient. This ability is rarely a blessing and usually feels like a curse, as she learns more about the inner secrets of her family, as well as complete strangers. As Rose moves from childhood and into young adulthood, she develops coping mechanisms around food and eating, in order to protect her own heart and mind.

But Rose is not the only gifted member of her family. Her brother is brilliant and aloof, hiding his own haunting gift from those who love him. Both her mother and father struggle with their own preoccupations and desire and Rose is all too aware of their emotions as they share meal after meal. I loved Rose’s voice – it changes and matures as she goes from a happy 9 year-old to a teenager dealing with her anger and ultimate outsider status and into her young adulthood, where she begins to figure out the blessings involved with her gift and finally deal with the vulnerability and isolation it has brought.

Bender creates not only an authentic, beautifully crafted character in Rose, she also builds a truly nuanced, extraordinary family in the Edelsteins. Each member is struggling to find their own gift, protect their own happiness, and love each other in the best ways they know how and it is heartbreakingly real. Other family members are as gifted as Rose, in both magical and real ways, and their journeys are amazing to experience through Rose’s eyes. Bender paces the emergence of Rose’s ability and the inner upheaval in her family perfectly. She emerges a young adult for which the reader feels the pride, relief, and worry of a parent.

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