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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake Cover

ISBN13: 9780385501125
ISBN10: 0385501129
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Rose goes through life feeling people’s emotions through their food.  Many eat to feel happy and comforted.  Does this extreme sensory experience bring any happiness to Rose or only sadness?  

2. What does Rose mean when she says her dad always seemed like a guest to her? How does this play out in the rest of the novel? 

3. “Mom's smiles were so full of feeling that people leaned back a little when she greeted them. It was hard to know just how much was being offered.”  What does Rose mean  and how does this trait affect the mother’s relationships? 

4. Why do you think the dad like medical dramas but hate hospitals? 

5. Rose says, “Mom loved my brother more.  Not that she didn’t love me-- I felt the wash of her love everyday, pouring over me, but it was a different kind, siphoned from a different, and tamer, body of water.  I was her darling daughter; Joseph was her it.”  Do you think Rose is right in her estimation and why do you think the mother might feel this way? 

6. What does the grandmother suggest when she tells Rose “you don’t even know me, How can you love me?”  How has the grandmother’s relationship with Rose’s own mother affected the family dynamic? 

7. What is Joseph trying to accomplish by drawing a ‘perfect’ circle when it, by very definition, is impossible? How does George’s idea to create wallpaper out of the imperfections affect him? How does validation and affection through art recur in the novel and what does it signify? 

8. Why does George suddenly conclude Rose’s gift isn’t really a problem and stops investigating it? 

9. What is the significance of the mother’s commitment to carpentry (compared to other, short-lived hobbies)? How does this play out in the rest of the novel? 

10. What is the impact of Rose's discovery about her father's skills?  Did this change the way you see the father?

11. Joseph is described as a desert and geode while Rose is a rainforest and sea glass. Discuss the implications. 

12. Why does Rose want to keep the thread-bare footstool of her parents’ courtship instead of having her mother make her a new one? 

13. Are the family dinners—with Joseph reading, the dad eating, Rose silently trying to survive the meal and the mom talking non-stop—emblematic of the family dynamic? How has it evolved over the years? 

14. How did you experience the scene in Joseph's room, when Rose goes to see him?  What did that experience mean to Rose? Is there any significance to Joseph choosing a card table chair?

15. What does the last image about the trees have to do with this family?  How do you interpret the last line of the novel?

For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 35 comments:

missjlm3011, March 29, 2013 (view all comments by missjlm3011)
I'll be honest,I was first attracted to this book by the cover, with its perfect piece of lemon cake. The name also, piqued my interest, and I just had to know why that lemon cake was so sad. I wasn't disappointed. I was pleasantly surprised as this book took on a magical tone, something I was not expecting. Rose discovers as a young girl that she has a psychic link to all the food she eats. From her mother's lemon cake and the overwhelming secrets it reveals, to the emptiness of factory made snacks, she is always looking for food that does not weigh her down emotionally. Rose tells her story against the backdrop of her childhood and her ongoing desire to connect more with her father and brother. From her initial discovery, to her early adulthood, we learn that this magical gift runs in her family and is more of a sad curse than a gift. This is a story of feeling alone in the world, of having a gift you can't share, of a having a family that you don't understand. I think being able to write a book that has this air of fantasy, while being so solidly set in the real world,with real people, is an amazing talent. This is a book that you will not soon forget.
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min7586, August 6, 2012 (view all comments by min7586)
Great book, interesting characters, loved it all around.
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adsmurdoch, January 28, 2012 (view all comments by adsmurdoch)
Amazing! Helps you to look at your parents in a different light.
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Product Details

Bender, Aimee
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Psychological fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.25 x 5.5 in 0.98 lb

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » Morning News Tournament » Tournament of Books 2011
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Featured Titles
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.95 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - English 9780385501125 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Aimee Bender's first novel since An Invisible Sign of My Own lives up to her astonishing short stories. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is an incredibly poignant and unique coming-of-age story that you won't be able to put down. My favorite book of the year so far.

"Review A Day" by , "Flannery O'Connor was famously supposed to have remarked that anyone who made it through childhood should have enough material to write about forever. Yet the list of contemporary American novelists who have written persuasively about children is, to my mind, surprisingly short. Alice Hoffman belongs on it and so do Alice McDermott, Joyce Carol Oates and the unfortunately overlooked Lewis Nordan. If we go back a bit, so does William Maxwell. After reading Aimee Bender's new novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, I would nominate her for inclusion on the list as well.

When the novel begins, Rose Edelstein is about to turn 9. Her mother decides to bake her a lemon-chocolate cake. When Rose bites into it, she discovers the most peculiar thing: She can taste the emotions of her mother, and while the cake itself is wonderful, her mother's emotions are anything but. The 'gift' quickly becomes a burden or — here, for once, I would not quibble with a publisher's jacket copy — 'a curse.' Rose begins to learn things about her mother, her father and her brother that most of us are blissfully unaware of. The novel, which covers a number of years, is a chronicle of her attempts to come to terms with what she knows." Steve Yarbrough, The Oregonian (read the entire Oregonian review)
"Review" by , "Charming and wistful....[Bender] harness[es] her exquisite, bizarre sensitivity, in this haunting examination."
"Review" by , "Bender deconstructs one of our most pleasurable activities, eating, and gives it a whole new flavor. She smooths out the lumps and grittiness of life to reveal its zest. Highly recommended for readers with sophisticated palates."
"Review" by , "[M]y guess is that this novel will be one of the year's highlights. Intense and compelling, it explores familial love in an unusually idiosyncratic but nonetheless convincing manner, and I find that I'm still thinking about Rose days after finishing the book."
"Review" by , "Haunting....Bender's prose delivers electric shocks....rendering the world in fresh, unexpected jolts. Moving, fanciful and gorgeously strange."
"Review" by , "[A] wacky stew of alienation and contradiction....unraveling family secrets as strangely lucid as they are nightmarish. At its core, Aimee Bender's novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake encourages us all to make the most of our unique gifts while still finding a way to live in the so-called real world."
"Synopsis" by , The wondrous Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale — heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad.
"Synopsis" by , The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse.

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them. It is heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad, and confirms Aimee Bender’s place as “a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language” (San Francisco Chronicle).

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