Rose Edelstein has a sixth sense. She can taste the emotions of the cook in everything she eats. This is not a good thing, as her first experience with this very odd phenomenon lets her know that her mother is full of despair.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake follows Rose and her family from the time when Rose discovered her “gift” at age 9 until she is a young adult. Sadly, Rose doesn’t have the family she needs to confess to and understand her problem. Her father is all but absent; her mother, while loving, is often distracted, and her brother Joseph is basically unreachable and seems to be having serious problems of his own. The only other relative she has is a grandmother she’s never met.
As she grows up, Rose learns to eat factory food and vending machine snacks to avoid the horror of learning others’ secrets and regrets. She finds one confidant in a friend of her brother’s, but they eventually grow apart.
This novel is intriguing from beginning to end. In fact, it becomes a kind of mystery as understanding the true nature of her family slowly and stunningly unfurls. There is so much beneath this sixth sense, and finding out about it is what finally enables Rose to begin to come to grips with who she is and where she comes from.
The layers of this story, like those of the lemon cake, offer abundant opportunities for discussion and analysis about family, relationships, and what it means to be different.
Doubleday; ISBN 978-0-38550-112-5; $25.95