Saturday, January 18, 2014

Teen review: Magical realism

Despite the short 292 pages, Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a powerful high school level novel. I would rate this a 5/5, but if I could, I would undeniably give it a 10!

The night before her birthday, Rose finds that she has another sense. She can taste feelings in food. Digging into her delicious birthday cake a night early, she almost chokes on it as she learns that her mother is a deeply depressed woman and poor nine-year-old Rose is overwhelmed by the anguish contained in the piece of cake. Rose soon cannot eat anything without tasting the emotions of the person who made it. Since her first taste of the new sense, she finds no food appealing to her anymore, especially her mother's.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake gave me many new insights on the ways of food that would never have occurred to me before reading this. Chefs and bakers do what they love because they feel passionately about it, just as others follow their own dreams. They pour out their emotions into the food or dessert they are making for someone to enjoy, just as an author would clear his or her mind by writing. Cooking is a beautiful type of artwork that can overwhelm your thoughts if you really pay attention. Desserts should provide you with a familiar warmth and give you a recognition of home. Instead, they fill Rose with despair. She observes that emotions are based on each food and each person making it, which one can get while eating it. When someone makes a meal, it is the foundation of what is going on inside that person, such as guilt, uncertainty, care, eagerness, or anxiety.

Some of the book was a little confusing: Bender occasionally jumps around and it is somewhat hard to follow. But it is easy to understand if you take the time to go back a few sentences and read it again. No one can go wrong with this stupendous novel, because it gives you a sense of realization that almost nothing else can. The thought-provoking elegance is irresistible, and I could not put it down for hours.

Somehow, this book got me thinking not just about food (I was getting quite hungry while reading), smell, and memory, but of myself and how I have been shaped because of my choices, dreams and of course, the senses. However, there was one particular question I introduced to myself in the first few chapters that kept coming back to me throughout the story: When Rose's mother pours her depression and bad feelings into the food she makes for her family, it should be letting some of the strong emotions out to make her feel better, so why is she so full of love and passion and yet she is internally struggling? The answer to that came to me eventually. The best people in the world who care the most are generally (and unfortunately) the saddest people. Nothing can compare to the brilliance woven into each chapter, each sentence, and even each word.

Reviewed by Amy Sepulveda, 9th grade

Editor's note: This book won the Alex Award in 2011--Alex books are written for adults but are judged to have particular appeal for teens.

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