I've read a few less-than-stellar reviews about this book yet I adored it! Everybody has their own opinion, naturally soooo I'm here to share mine. I think my favorite college professor would have had a field day with this book's symbolism. It delves headlong into the mother/daughter role and how a mother loves her children. Even though it takes place in modern day I'm reminded of a 1950's family at times.
Synopsis (from good reads):
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.
Eating just that one bite of what should be a special birthday cake draws her closer to her mother than most girl's her age ever get. She tastes loneliness and despair=fairly typical feelings for some housewives with lack of direction but Rose loses her appetite. Rose continues to uncover her mother's secrets including an affair=suddenly she tastes a lightness mixed with a new happiness.
Family dynamics are fully explored in Bender's story as she looks at the triangle formed between a mother and her two children. Rose knows her mother and is her mother's aide. She never tells her mother's secrets, there's a confidante aspect to their relationship. Mothers and daughters often have a special and fairly difficult relationship and Bender portrays this through the food sensory idea. What symbolizes a mother more than food?? The second part of the triangle is Rose's brother, Joseph. Joseph has his own magical talent which makes him completely introverted and seperate from his family but of course, he is the one his mother dotes on. Rose admires Joseph and wants to spend time with him while Joseph feels overwhelmed by human contact.
See daughter tries to help and please mother while mother obsesses about son. Now Rose and Joseph's father is a lawyer and spends his quiet time working at home and having minimal contact with his family-he's nice but not emotionally there. Dad has his own secrets. Classic family psycho-drama well-told by Bender.
Every now and then, I would crawl out of bed in the middle of the night to find her in the big armchair with the striped orange pattern, a shawl-blanket draped over her knees. I, at five, or six, would crawl into her lap, like a cat. She would pet my hair, like I was a cat. She would pet, and sip. We never spoke, and I fell asleep quickly in her arms, in the hopes that my weight, my sleepiness, would somehow seep into her. I always woke up in my own bed, so I never knew if she went back to her room or if she stayed there all night, staring at the folds of the curtains over the window. (20-21)
She put her cheek down to rest on our matched hands and closed her eyes. She was wearing a new eye shadow, pale pink on her brow bone, and she looked like a flower resting there. How much I wanted to protect her, her frail eyelids, streaked with glimmer: I put a hand lightly on her hair. (100)
I loved the connection Rose establishes with her mother and food. How do we cook? Do we cook frantically or do we stop and smell; cook with love. That's what Rose needs. What Rose does with this knowledge later as she becomes more comfortable with food is passionate. I also adored the close-up view of Los Angelos. Bender gave me a real sense of location as I walked the streets with Rose even though it's been years since I've visited LA. Now that I've gone through intimate details of this book it's crazy that I'm giving it away-I should read it again as I'm sure with Bender's wonderful writing I haven't found every detail. Oh, it's really so good. I hope you'll try it yourself!