The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

If you could taste Mike’s emotions in his food, his creme brulee would not just taste smooth and creamy, it would also taste unconcerned. His lasagna would have an easygoing flavor. And his burgers would taste kind. He is a peaceful person, someone who is generally not bothered by the world around him. His food would taste content. My own food, I am sorry to say, would be more anxious, more cynical, and, Mike would like me to add, more focused and single-minded. The more you think about it, the easier it is to identify: the relative whose food would taste happy but tired, the friend whose food would taste harried and overcompensating, the coworker whose food would have a bitter aftertaste.

On her ninth birthday, Rose discovers that she can taste her mother’s feelings in the lemon cake her mother has spent the afternoon making. While her mother’s food has unknowingly communicated longing and discontent, Rose can taste other flavors as well: the anger of a local baker she senses in his cookies, the contentment of a friend’s parents as communicated through lunchtime sandwiches. As Rose gets older, she copes with these feelings by eating a lot of processed food, but as she matures, she learns how to appreciate the people who love working with food, no matter what their emotions. She also learns to identify organic meat, the plants where different foods are processed, and can even tell where something was grown. By the end of the book, she is learning to make her gift (or curse, depending how you look at it) serve her, rather than the other way around.

This is a book about family secrets and coping mechanisms, though the extent to which it is about those things is not evident right away. As someone who loves food, I was fascinated by Rose’s strong connections to the food around her and how hard it was for her to take in other people’s emotions. I also enjoyed her journey from first discovering her skill to taking charge of it. It’s a sad book, too, as Rose’s family misses connecting with each other. It was different than what I expected, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Disclaimer: I was on hold for this book at the library for a while. The library called me, mispronounced my middle name as usual, and told me it had come in. But before I could get there to pick it up, a copy of this book appeared on my doorstep, compliments of DoubleDay. I was excited, to put it mildly. Despite the fact that they provided the book for me, I assure you that the thoughts on it are my own and were not influenced by DoubleDay or Random House. For the record, I still checked the book out of the library and then returned it immediately. Just to give them the circulation statistic. That’s how I roll.

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