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Lost in a Book

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender

An unusual coming-of-age story about a girl with an unusual gift.

Rose Edelstein can taste emotions in the food she eats - whatever the person who prepared the food feels, and all the way down to the individual ingredients. At nine, she discovers her mother’s emptiness and despair in a slice of lemon birthday cake. As her ability develops, she becomes privy to secrets that puzzle and overwhelm her, and for awhile she takes refuge in processed foods that have less contact with human hands. But in the end, of course, Rose must come to terms with her "gift" and learn to accept who she is. Through Rose, Bender examines the intricacy of family relationships and the shock of growing up and realizing that the people you love may be seriously flawed, and that everyone has his/her own personal demons.

The climax of the book involves the disappearance of Joseph, Rose’s brilliant and anti-social brother. It turns out that Rose is not the only one with a gift. But Joseph’s case is much more extreme and he has no choice but to isolate himself from people as much as possible. In desperation, he works out a way to escape permanently (i.e. into a chair). I know some people feel this part of the book is simply too bizarre, but I think it’s essential to the plot because it opens Rose’s eyes and shows her that she’s unmistakably connected to her family. This is also reinforced through her father’s revelations. It’s really the thread that pulls the whole story together.

To enjoy this book, I think you have to go into it with no expectations and be willing to follow wherever the story leads. I read it in an afternoon and found myself thinking about Rose for a long time afterward.