The Cake House by Latifah Salom
Published by Vintage
Review copy provided by the publisher
The Cake House begins with a bang, quite literally: Rosura’s father shoots himself at the home of her mother’s lover after learning of her affair. Immediately, Rosura and her mother move in with this man, Claude, and his teenage son Alex. Rosie is miserable in this strange home, living with two people who are basically strangers to her, and her mother is too depressed to be there for her emotionally. Soon she begins to suspect that things are a bit off with Claude, that maybe his business is not as legitimate as he presents it to be, and even worse, the ghost of Rosie’s father keeps showing up just when she moves closer to the truth.
This novel had a lot of potential for me. Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, part ghost story, part dysfunctional family dynamics – it has many elements of stuff I love in books. Ultimately I didn’t really connect with it and I think that’s because there was just TOO much going on here.
Initially, I was intrigued by Rosie and wanted to get to know her better. She behaves in some bizarre ways – sleeping for days, bicycling around her neighborhood naked, trying to get together with Alex’s friend, then actually getting together with Alex (her new stepbrother I guess?) – but then again, her life has been turned upside-down. I suppose that gives a person license to do some crazy things. At times she seemed very smart and perceptive, but other times she seemed incredibly naive for fourteen. I guess what I’m trying to say is her character felt inconsistent for me and as a result, I never really connected to her.
The ghost thing was an interesting twist but it never fully integrated into the story for me. What the ghost seemed to be doing was warning Rosie to keep her distance from Claude, but the ghost was MEAN. And I never fully understood if her dad was mean when he was alive so it didn’t make sense to me. Also I kind of hated the Rosie and Alex dynamic – basically he was using her (as teen boys who think with their hormones are prone to do) but she was too young and in too emotional of a place to understand that’s what was happening. It felt sloppy and sad and just out of place in the overall story. But that could just be me.
I didn’t hate the book. I liked Salom’s writing. I kept reading because of that and because I was genuinely interested in finding out what was the deal with Claude. Salom gave just enough clues throughout the book to keep the reader engaged in that story and for me at least, I raced through the end to get to the truth.
I think The Cake House could have improved with some more cohesion and tightening up of the many, many elements of the novel. I didn’t enjoy the book much but as I said, I didn’t hate it either. I’d be open to reading Latifah Salom’s future novels as this one did show promise.