I’ve been pitching my friend’s book as “cyberbullying meets Marie Antoinette” to just about anyone who listens, and it always garners a curious and interested response.
But Ally Dahlin takes this ball of a concept and runs with all of its philosophical, relevant consequences. She integrates solid worldbuilding of a dystopian future, dancing effortlessly with dreamy prose (a staple of hers), and butting up against some of the most urgent, violent political movements of our time.
Reasons Why You Should Read Cake Eater
#1: This book has become eerily prophetic.
I have a pretty unique insight into this book. She started writing it before the insurrection. She started writing it before someone rolled a guillotine in front of Jeffery Bezos’s house. She started writing it before top leftist breadtubers like Contrapoints started defending Marie Antoinette as – instead of the rich brat history has painted her as – the ultimate cautionary tale of populism gone violent. We would type frantically together during our lunch breaks and rush back to work, all before COVID, before the pandemic’s explosive wealth of billionaires, before some of the more intense art-imitating-life-imitating-history elements became quite so topical.
And Marie Antoinette’s story is still relevant. Even as I’m writing this, Keffals is trying to take down the right-wing doxxing site Kiwifarms, which takes online data way too far to SWAT people in real life. Harassment of women is never not a part of the conversation. So much of online life is reminiscent of the choking claustrophobia of Dahlin’s “forums” and first estate surveillance.
#2: It strikes a moral balance for a Marie Antoinette story.
This book is like the opposite of J.K. Rowling’s most recent, indulgent complaint about cancel culture turned into a 1,000-paged novel. Instead, CAKE EATER is a inciteful study of how celebrity and responsibility are integrated, how “influence” to such an extreme is unsustainable, how good PR is meaningless, and how common it is that the needs for systematic change are capitalized on by bad actors. It’s not as simple as “people are mean online, how tragic.” The slow-burn escalation is palpable, and the characters are trapped by their own popularity manufactured by someone else.
Because Marie is, at times, an airhead, choosing to live behind holographic walls. At other times, she’s completely sheltered from information by the First Estate despite her best efforts to learn more. While she keeps being obsessed with PR, the possibility of actually improving the lives of the people is far beyond her control, despite her being one of the most powerful people actually benefiting from that broken system. She’s both responsible and not at the same time, with the same airy ignorance of the Sophia Coppola film it’s based on. And when she realizes the severity of her world, it’s far too late.
It’s sympathetic, critical, demanding, and understanding. It strikes a pose. (Vogue.)
3. Come for the hook. Stay for your fave.
Of course, none of this would matter if we didn’t care about the characters, but each one brings something new to the table: shy Louis, devious Stan (whomst I stan), eerie and romantic Fersen, insightful Elizabeth, the intimidating Empress herself … and so many more. Meanwhile, threatening politicians from the first and third estates rustle about in the background of the story, like feet just barely visible from under a curtain.
Louis is kind and his scenes will break your heart. That’s all I’ll say on that.
4. Get yourself some demisexual representation.
Demisexual/asexual representation, especially for men, is needed and lacking, and Dahlin has a respectful and honest representation of it in Louis, whose sexual issues in his real-life counterpart are remarked upon ad nauseum.
5. It’s a fantastical story grounded in realism.
Overall, these teenagers act like teenagers, rather than the sword-wielding, level-headed heroines that used to litter the YA genre. It’s a frank representation of a teenaged girl. She’s silly, vain, and normal. There’s no way to girl-boss out of this. Leaning in means leaning into a laser noose. This will be why some people may hate the book. This will also be why people will love this book and place it in their top 10.
6. AI Fersen.
The novel has seen a lot of changes since I first read the early drafts. It’s tighter, the sci-fi elements are more prominent, and it sports some interesting new sections. Reading this again has made me nostalgic for the year-and-a-half-or-so of Ally randomly messaging me hilarious facts about this famous French family. All of her research into the next phase of French history makes me particularly antsy for a sequel!
7. It’s a critical darling.
Of course, I’d be proud of my friend for publishing something with a big five even if it wasn’t good. Thank God I don’t have to pretend at all. I’ve read a handful of books this year, and this tops the list. Don’t take my word for it; it’s gotten a fair share of industry praise.
What’s more … CAKE EATER has something of value to share with the world right now. It’s written well, blows me away, and really has earned the five stars. I hope you consider reading and reviewing it!
Don’t want to get a physical copy? Try the audiobook!