The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

There is something about quirky titles that catches my attention, and I have to admit that the title was the first thing I noticed about Aimee Bender’s novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. If that’s not intriguing, I don’t know what is!

The novel drifts more towards the ‘sadness’ part of the title then the warm, fuzzy feelings evoked by ‘lemon cake,’ however. It follows Rose Edelstein from her ninth birthday to a year or so after her high school graduation. During this period, she realizes she has an unusual gift: she can taste the emotions of cooks—from her mother, to her friend, to a professional chef—in the food they prepare. This opens up a hidden world of deceit and sadness to the young Rose, who suddenly realizes that the people she loves are not exactly who she thinks they are.

Rose finds some interesting ways of coping with her gift, including eating only factory-made food purchased from vending machines. This gift certainly doesn’t help her eat healthy! And it complicates her relationships as well: in one heartbreaking subplot, Rose befriends a fellow student and trusts her with her secret—only to discover that she and her gift are being used.

The intriguing plot isn’t the only high point of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake; Bender’s novel also stands out for its refreshing style and peculiar but fitting word use. It’s a page turner, but more because you want to uncover Bender’s next unusual adjective than because you’re engrossed in the plot.

This novel does take a bit of puzzling out, though, and it demands a great deal of imagination from the reader. Be warned that you really have to be willing to spend some time and brainpower on this book if you want to enjoy it.

What I love about this book is that it is quirky, fascinating, and intelligent. It’s an adult book, but its effortless, elegant style makes The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake an excellent crossover read.

As I’m sure we all know, there is a particular holiday coming up. Let’s see . . . large men in red suits, trees, gifts . . . Oh! Christmas! If there’s a reader in your family—a reader of any age—I highly suggest you invest in this novel for him. And then steal it and read it yourself. Bon appétit!


Meredith Hilton hails from Washington, DC during the school year (in the summer, her location is pretty much up to chance). On any given day you can find her online, being artsy, in the library, or surreptitiously writing poetry during math class.

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