On the eve of her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein discovered that, when eating, she can “read” the feelings of the person who cooked the food — and the feelings are often ones the cook isn’t even aware of. This gift was not something Rose wanted to be burdened with, or even something she knew what to do with. It didn’t help that no one really believed the reality of what she was experiencing — except her older brother Joseph’s friend George. He helps Rose find a handle on the “skill;” gives her the confidence to keep going. Even with that, it’s not easy: she finds that processed, pre-packaged foods are easiest, and over time, she learns to discern not only the feelings of the preparer, but where each individual ingredient came from and the mood of the person harvesting the ingredient. It isn’t an easy existence.
Rose’s life is complicated immensely by her home life: she tastes her mother’s affair, and her brother’s growing distance. It doesn’t help that he keeps disappearing, for days and weeks at a time as he gets older. She is confused by her father’s distance, and wonders at his aversion to the hospital. She desperately wants to connect to her family, to be appreciated in any way by them, but is reluctant to let them in on the secret: aside from George, the one person she confided in became incredibly clingy and unbearable.
There are moments of pure pleasure in this book: the way Rose sifts through the layers of her food, the times when she finally makes her own food, near the end when she finds a French café where the food is so satisfying on every level that she knows it’s where she belongs. But, aside from the lack of quotation marks (which was jarring at the beginning) and run-on sentences, this book lacked that certain magic to truly make it work. The whole subplot with and mystery about Joseph eventually ended unsatisfactorily, seeming almost unnecessary to the arc of Rose’s plight.
Perhaps it was too much to ask of this book, to hope for some Sarah Addison Allen magic with the plot and characters. This book had real potential but in the end fell short of those expectations. Which is, in many ways, a particular sadness.
Rated: Moderate, for four uses of strong language