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4 Burnside Literature- A to Z

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake Cover

ISBN13: 9780385501125
ISBN10: 0385501129
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
All Product Details




It happened for the first time on a Tuesday afternoon,

a warm spring day in the flatlands near Hollywood, a light

breeze moving east from the ocean and stirring the black- eyed

pansy petals newly planted in our flower boxes.

My mother was home, baking me a cake. When I tripped up

the walkway, she opened the front door before I could knock.

How about a practice round? she said, leaning past the door

frame. She pulled me in for a hello hug, pressing me close to my

favorite of her aprons, the worn cotton one trimmed in sketches

of twinned red cherries.

On the kitchen counter, she’d set out the ingredients: Flour

bag, sugar box, two brown eggs nestled in the grooves between

tiles. A yellow block of butter blurring at the edges. A shallow

glass bowl of lemon peel. I toured the row. This was the week of

my ninth birthday, and it had been a long day at school of cursive

lessons, which I hated, and playground yelling about point

scoring, and the sunlit kitchen and my warm- eyed mother were

welcome arms, open. I dipped a finger into the wax baggie of

brown- sugar crystals, murmured yes, please, yes.

She said there was about an hour to go, so I pulled out my


spelling booklet. Can I help? I asked, spreading out pencils and

papers on the vinyl place mats.

Nah, said Mom, whisking the flour and baking soda


My birthday is in March, and that year it fell during an

especially bright spring week, vivid and clear in the narrow residential

streets where we lived just a handful of blocks south of

Sunset. The night- blooming jasmine that crawled up our neighbor’s

front gate released its heady scent at dusk, and to the north,

the hills rolled charmingly over the horizon, houses tucked into

the brown. Soon, daylight savings time would arrive, and even at

nearly nine, I associated my birthday with the first hint of summer,

with the feeling in classrooms of open windows and lighter

clothing and in a few months no more homework. My hair got

lighter in spring, from light brown to nearly blond, almost like

my mother’s ponytail tassel. In the neighborhood gardens, the

agapanthus plants started to push out their long green robot

stems to open up to soft purples and blues.

Mom was stirring eggs; she was sifting flour. She had one

bowl of chocolate icing set aside, another with rainbow sprinkles.

A cake challenge like this wasn’t a usual afternoon activity;

my mother didn’t bake all that often, but what she enjoyed most

was anything tactile, and this cake was just one in a long line of

recent varied hands- on experiments. In the last six months, she’d

coaxed a strawberry plant into a vine, stitched doilies from vintage

lace, and in a burst of motivation installed an oak side door

in my brother’s bedroom with the help of a hired contractor.

She’d been working as an office administrator, but she didn’t

like copy machines, or work shoes, or computers, and when my

father paid off the last of his law school debt, she asked him if

she could take some time off and learn to do more with her

hands. My hands, she told him, in the hallway, leaning her hips

against his; my hands have had no lessons in anything.

Anything? he’d asked, holding tight to those hands. She

laughed, low. Anything practical, she said.

They were right in the way, in the middle of the hall, as I

was leaping from room to room with a plastic leopard. Excuse

me, I said.

He breathed in her hair, the sweet- smelling thickness of it.

My father usually agreed with her requests, because stamped in

his two- footed stance and jaw was the word Provider, and he

loved her the way a bird- watcher’s heart leaps when he hears the

call of the roseate spoonbill, a fluffy pink wader, calling its lilting

coo- coo from the mangroves. Check, says the bird- watcher.

Sure, said my father, tapping a handful of mail against her back.

Rah, said the leopard, heading back to its lair.

At the kitchen table, I flipped through my workbook, basking

in the clicking sounds of a warming oven. If I felt a hint of anything

unsettling, it was like the sun going swiftly behind a cloud

only to shine straight seconds later. I knew vaguely that my parents

had had an argument the night before, but parents had

arguments all the time, at home and on TV. Plus, I was still busily

going over the bad point scoring from lunch, called by Eddie

Oakley with the freckles, who never called fairly. I read through

my spelling booklet: knack, knick, knot; cartwheel, wheelbarrow,

wheelie. At the counter, Mom poured thick yellow batter into a

greased cake pan, and smoothed the top with the flat end of a

pink plastic spatula. She checked the oven temperature, brushed

a sweaty strand of hair off her forehead with the knob of her


Here we go, she said, slipping the cake pan into the oven.

When I looked up, she was rubbing her eyelids with the pads

of her fingertips. She blew me a kiss and said she was going to lie

down for a little bit. Okay, I nodded. Two birds bickered outside.

In my booklet, I picked the person doing a cartwheel and colored

her shoes with red laces, her face a light orange. I made a

vow to bounce the ball harder on the playground, and to bounce

it right into Eddie Oakley’s corner. I added some apples to the

wheelbarrow freehand.

The room filled with the smell of warming butter and sugar

and lemon and eggs, and at five, the timer buzzed and I pulled

out the cake and placed it on the stovetop. The house was quiet.

The bowl of icing was right there on the counter, ready to go,

and cakes are best when just out of the oven, and I really

couldn’t possibly wait, so I reached to the side of the cake pan,

to the least obvious part, and pulled off a small warm spongy

chunk of deep gold. Iced it all over with chocolate. Popped the

whole thing into my mouth.

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.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
min7586, August 6, 2012 (view all comments by min7586)
Great book, interesting characters, loved it all around.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
adsmurdoch, January 28, 2012 (view all comments by adsmurdoch)
Amazing! Helps you to look at your parents in a different light.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
View all 35 comments

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
$9.95 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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