Friday, November 4, 2011

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.
Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

How do I write a review of a book about abandonment, trauma, loneliness and despair that's going to make you want to read it?  I ordered this book from Doubleday Book Club because I had seen it on the best-seller list and knew it was creating a buzz in the book blog world, and because Doubleday offers those dab-blasted sales and 2-for-1 deals that suck me in and force me to purchase more books.  Doubleday Book Club is the devil.

For the first half (or more) of the book, I was on the fence.  I thought it was sad and depressing - this poor girl had been shuffled through thirty-two foster homes, labeled unloveable and unteachable.  She drew farther and farther into herself, shying away from human touch and rarely communicating, preferring the company of flowers.  The one person Victoria began to connect with in her life was Elizabeth - her foster-mother when she was nine.  Elizabeth taught Victoria the language of flowers and how to communicate through them.

Mid-way through the story, I read an interview with the author.  Ms. Diffenbaugh was a foster parent and based the character of Victoria on an amalgam of experiences of her children and others in the foster care system.  The thought that there are real children, not just book characters, who experience this lifetime of neglect made the story even sadder.  However, the mystery of the boy Victoria meets in the flower market and the unanswered questions about Elizabeth kept me reading and cheering for this girl.

I'm so glad I didn't give in to the sadness and quit reading.  I would dearly love to share the end of the story with you because I think it is so beautifully done - but I don't want to spoil your moment of discovering it for yourself.  Instead I will give you a sample of the writing that convinces me Ms. Diffenbaugh has many bestsellers to come.

On the street below me, a school-age girl stepped off a bus.  She was alone and walked quickly down the street, a bouquet of flowers in her hands.  I couldn't see what she carried.  I exhaled.  I wanted more than anything to be that girl, to be a child again and carry crocus or hawthorn or larkspur instead of buckets of thistle. . .I wanted to start my life over, on a course that would not lead to this moment... Every decision I'd ever made had led me here, and I wanted to take it all back, the hatred and the blame and the violence.  I wanted to have lunch with my angry ten-year-old self, to warn her of this morning and give her the flowers to point her in a different direction.
I am giving Language of Flowers my top rating on whatever scale you choose - thumbs up, five stars, better-than-Dove-chocolate!


  1. I will definitely have to check out this book; it does sound like an interesting story. I mentored a young girl when we lived in Montana who was in the foster care system. I think the saddest thing is when they turn 18 and they are out of the system and they are on their own without the typical support a young adult would have through family. I think that's why some join the military, but I can see others becoming homeless too.

    Thanks for the review!


  2. I'm sold. This sounds like something I will enjoy reading and sharing with friends too. Thanks for the nice posting.

  3. really interesting juxtaposition. I also fixed on the name Victoria. Victoria = Victorian, nice because of the language of flowers & also, Victoria = Victory I'm fairly reassured that things will turn out all right for her. Thanks for the review. It looks great!

  4. I had read all the reviews for this book and in intrigued me a lot. I have to admit it took me a little while to get in the book. The main character does not make herself liked. As you read the story you realize that she is this way because she is afraid. Afraid of what? Afraid of the basic human emotions, trust and love. That is because she has never experienced them her whole life. The story will touch your heart as our main character finds that there is trust and love for everyone in life.