Am I really the first person to review this? HOW EXCITING.
So, THE CAKE HOUSE is a loose retelling of HAMLET. Except Hamlet--Rosaura--is a girl, in this case, and Ophelia is a boy.
Rosaura Douglas is not happy when her mother marries Claude Fisk. She blames him for her father's death, although to what extent, it isn't quite clear. He was supposed to be the answer to their money woes, and he is, but now her father isn't in the picture.
...Well, at least, not alive. Because Rosaura still does see her father. She sees his ghost, anyway. When Claude marries her mother he takes them all to the gauche pink house in the L.A. hills that's known, derisively, as "the cake house."
It's also where her father died.
Rosaura goes to a new school and deals with her complicated feelings for her mercurial step-brother (Alex), while trying to disentangle the knot of lies and secrecy that her new family has become. Why does her mother always look resigned and afraid? Why is her stepfather so secretive? And why does Alex seem to hate his father?
I think THE CAKE HOUSE is a debut, and for a debut -- for a book in general, let's be honest, I liked this, even if I didn't love it -- it's pretty good. I definitely think it manages to stand on its own two feet. The loss of innocence motif gives the book a kind of WHITE OLEANDER vibe, which is actually a little hilarious because I happened to be reading the acknowledgements section, and she thanks Janet Fitch (author of WHITE OLEANDER) for helping her with her writing.
Unlike HAMLET, THE CAKE HOUSE has a happy ending. The first half of the book parallels the play pretty well, although the author makes a lot of changes, but the second half peters out, and it just becomes another gritty new adult/young adult book about a girl who thinks her family is up to no good. In fact, by the end of the book -- with the exception of her father's ghost -- the storyline has so little to do with HAMLET that it seems disingenuous to call THE CAKE HOUSE a retelling.
I did like the magic realism element and the writing is very well done. I kept thinking, "Why can't I write like this?" The descriptions were great and flowed smoothly. I actually think the comparison to Shakespeare is to this book's detriment because comparing a debut to one of the most brilliant masterworks of all time is never a good idea, especially if the retelling thereof is half-assed.
Overall, this was a good story but it could have been better executed.
3 out of 5 stars!