The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Goodreads | Amazon) is not what I thought it was, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I thought the novel, despite the premise of being able to taste feelings, would stay clearly in the contemporary category. By the end, it seemed a little bit more magical realism than contemporary, but still an interesting read.
The night before her ninth birthday Rose Edelstein takes a bite out of her birthday cake, a homemade lemon and chocolate masterpiece, only to discover that she doesn't taste the lemon, or the chocolate, but is immensely overwhelmed by the feelings baked in her cake. She tastes her mother's sadness and emptiness. From there onward, Rose can taste the emotions in food, tracing the feelings back to the farms where the vegetables are picked and factories where food is packaged.
Sometimes people ask the difference between an adult book with a child narrator and a children/young adult book with a child narrator. This is a textbook example where adult knowledge and experience is put into the child's mouth. For me, an avid young adult reader, it's a little jarring and makes the character less believable. At age 8, Rose is building roads for her toy cars to travel and mentions city ordinances requiring them to go past her brother's door. That's just not an 8-year-olds knowledge. Tidbits like that are scattered throughout the book.
For me what really undermines this book is the ending. Not only is it strange, but it's abrupt. The book is suddenly over and you're left wondering if you missed something. I'm not saying the book needed a happy, all the ends tied-up ending but the last chapter of a book should feel like a conclusion and for me it didn't As for the strangeness, I really can't say much more without spoiling the book. But it's very strange. Overall the book was enjoyable but flawed. I listened to this on audiobook from the public library, and it's worth a listen if you're in need of a book.
When I realized this was an author-narrated audiobook my expectations dropped. Honestly, author/narrator combinations are so hit and miss that I tend to avoid them. Luckily, this author manages to narrate the book well. She does it without trying to overact, but reading the book in a simple narration style that fits Rose, a girl who has disconnected herself from her feelings to an extent. It works. Actually her style reminded me a bit of Sara Zarr (who I love as a narrator). I think listening on audiobook helped improve the book, especially when I see other people complaining about grammatical style issues in reviews, which is something I did not have to deal with at all. Like I said before, if you see this audiobook at the library it's worth a listen.