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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong

I loved Bitter in the Mouth.  Linda Hammerick grows up in Boiling Springs, NC, but she is an alien.  There is always something different about her, and she never quite fits in.

For one thing, Linda is a synesthete; she tastes words.  "My first memory was a taste.  For most of my life I have carried this fact with me not as a mystery, which it still is, but as a secret....There was something bitter in the mouth, and there was the word that triggered it"(15).

Here is an example of Linda's hearing/taste condition: 

"When my teacher asked, 'Linda where did the English first settle in North Carolina?' the question would come to me as "Lindamint, where did the Englishmarachinocherry firstPepto-Bismol settlemustard in Northcheddarcheese Carolinacanned peas?" (21).

Synesthesia is not, however, Linda's only difference, and there are mysteries that she doesn't understand about her relationships with her family and the community. 

My favorite character is Linda's Great-Uncle Harper, a retired librarian and one of her two best friends.  Her other best friend is Kelly, with whom she exchanges almost daily letters even at seven years old. 

I love the way Uncle Harper classified his own books:

"His books were shelved in alphabetical order but not by titles.  A for "Acerbic," B for "Buy Another Copy as Gift," C for "Cow Dung, as in This Stinks," D for devastating," E for "Explore Further, F for "Foreign" (foreign meant that my great-uncle couldn't relate to the characters in the book, not that the author was from another country), and so on."  He had, according to Linda, 26 categories!

A beautifully written book with lots of little mysteries about herself and her family that Linda only discovers fully as an adult.  I was surprised the book was only 282 pages, I felt it was so much more!  In the best possible way!

Highly recommended.

Fiction.  Southern Fiction/Coming of Age/ Family Relationships.  2010. 282 pages.


  1. I wasn't even aware that synesthesia appeared as a taste of words. Very interesting. I've read about synesthesia but it presented in different ways. Thanks for highlighting this book, Jenclair.

  2. Kay - lexical-gustatory synesthesia is one of the rarer varieties. I read a little more about it after finishing the book and found it fascinating that so many artists and musicians are synesthetes, although the various presentations are quite wide.

    I read a novel about a detective whose variation presented in smells, mostly unpleasant. In his case, the synesthesia was debilitating, but it seems that in most cases the condition is considered almost a gift, an additional sensory experience.

    There are over 60 forms that have been studied. Whew!

    Anyway, the book was really good, and the synesthesia was only a part, a large part, to be sure, but there was much more, and Truong's writing just pulled me in.

  3. I love the book classification system by the uncle. How fun. My shelves would have no "c"s though because those go to Half Price Books :)

    This sounds really interesting. Thank you for the review!

  4. Sounds like a fun read and quite interesting. It's going on my list of "want to read's"!

  5. Iliana - It is even funnier that Harper is a retired librarian! I;m afraid I would have some C's for Cow Dung, but I do try to donate them to the library and an assisted living residence (not just C's, but any books that I don't just love and intend to read again are donated).

    Paula - It is a good read and it contains a few surprises along the way.

  6. This sounds very tempting. I still haven't read one of her other novels The Book of Salt. ... Maybe I should do that first... But I will keep this in mind.

  7. Caroline, I remember having The Book of Salt on a list several years ago, but never read it. I'll try to correct that situation soon!