Book Club: Bitter in the Mouth Review

Author:Monique Truong
Publisher: Random House
Audio Publisher:
Release Date: August 31, 2010

Since Stacy already posted the information from Goodreads here, I thought I’d go ahead with the review!

Monique Truong’s second novel, Bitter in the Mouth, is about Linda, a girl who has synesthesia, a rare disorder in which the sound of words trigger food tastes. The word “mother” tastes like chocolate milk and her own name, “Linda,” tastes like mint. The associations interestingly do not seem to have rhyme or reason as negative words can have positive tastes and vice versa. The novel describes her upbringing in a small town, the numerous letters she writes to her best friend Kelly, how she deals with her synesthesia (as it is difficult to process word meaning with all of the initial flavors bombarding the senses), her eccentric uncle, Baby Harper, and finally, the big reveal of the factors surrounding the difficulties in her childhood with her mother.

I found the book interesting as she would often narrate a sentence by saying “What (graham cracker) do (licorice) you (lollipop) want (meatball)?” so that we too were bombarded with the tastes and could not process the sentence either (especially because I was listening, I couldn’t go back and reread so I felt like I was Linda that much more). I kept wondering what words should taste like, based on sound or meaning, and wanted to link every new vocabulary word I learned with a taste. Reader Jennifer Ikeda was properly “bitter” and unhappy throughout the novel, mimicking the narrator’s mood (and also articulated the taste sensations in a slightly different tone than the words themselves-hard to do!).

What I found somewhat problematic was how she described the awfulness of her mother’s nightly dinners- varieties of the same chicken casserole baked with a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup-yet she had such a multitude of flavors for words. How had she tasted so much (that she could then identify each word with a separate flavor), when she was clearly limited in her gastronomic palate at home?

I also just never found myself rooting for Linda or reveling in the plot. The book is constructed somewhat strangely, which reinforces the “danger of keeping secrets” theme, but also kept me from really latching on to Linda. I thought the plot was a slow-paced one, and while the end reveal was interesting, it still did not make up for much of the book’s blandness.

In retrospect (after answering the Bitter in the Mouth discussion questions for LHJ), I did appreciate the literary academic-ness of the novel; if you are ready for an academic challenge and go in looking for themes and motifs, you may be more satisfied with the lack of loveable characters and the slow pace. As Stacy, Shannan and I all agreed, this is definitely a book club book, because even if you didn’t like the read, there is a LOT to talk about (and figure out).

Instead of a rating, I’ll let our podcast and discussion questions give the GitS opinion and let the commentary continue the reviews!

-Audiobibliophile Sarah
P.S. Find out more information on the audio recording at

7 Responses to “Book Club: Bitter in the Mouth Review”

  1. stacy says:

    Sarah, I totally agree with your review!! Linda was a hard character to relate to, and not because of her condition either. I think my problem with Lnda was her lack of full sharing with the reader. Maybe had we known more about her (or if the pace had been quicker) I might I have rooted for her.

  2. Thanks Stacy-I’m really anxious to hear what other readers have to say…it got great reviews on Goodreads, and I suddenly felt like maybe I missed something-so speak up, readers-tell Girls in the Stacks what Stacy and I are missing!

  3. Dawn says:

    I went on the internet looking for help on WHY the author included the stories about the Wright brothers and slavery. did I miss something? found your website. Any ideas are appreciated.
    Loved the concept of the book, in fact, did research on synesthesia and found out I have a form of it (number lines)….but I did not love the writing. I thought it was confusing and jumped around too much with the additional stories (Wright bro’s and slavery)injected into the book, made it hard to follow.
    I have not read her first book. would you suggested reading it?

  4. [...] bookish bloggers over at Girls in the Stacks read Bitter and ran with it (go girls!), writing a review, answering the discussion questions, and hosting their own virtual book club chat via a terrific [...]

  5. Dawn,
    I totally agree with you-the random stories about Wright brothers and slavery are just that-kind of random but probably metaphorical about her life (but I don’t want to have to go back and re-read the books so can’t give you any specifics other than she’s trying to find her heritage/identity in the South perhaps?). We haven’t read her first book either, so cannot honestly give you an informed opinion. I would check out the reviews on Goodreads and see if it appeals to you.

    Good luck with your research and feel free to check back on some of the other books we review to see if anything interests you!

  6. Mary Beth Loosen says:

    I agree with Sarah R. Wright that the Wright brothers and slavery serve as metaphors for Linda’s life. The Wrights were bound to earth until they learned how to escape its gravitational pull. Likewise, slaves were bound to their masters. Linda was bound to her synesthesia and what she recalled of her personal history. When their “bindings” were loosed they were free to achieve (or to work toward) their potential.

    I’m tempted to re-read part one to look for clues to Linda’s background. Totally missed them the first time through!

    This book would not receive a rave review from me.

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