I picked up Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers a few weeks ago at the library, and did not actually get a chance to read it. Last week, on my family’s regular Sunday afternoon trip to the stacks, I saw it in again and picked it up. I am unbelievably glad I did. I’d heard a few wonderful things about the book; I’d also heard a few so-so things about it.
Here is a brief overview of the book, from the book jacket:
A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.
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.
This is Diffenbaugh’s debut novel, and she delivered on every page. She writes in her acknowledgements that she has some experience raising foster children (see her with her family), which I think lends itself wonderfully to the way she shaped Victoria, the book’s main character. My husband and I worked with at-risk kids too; they lived in our home and were our children for a year. I had to offer up a bittersweet smile when Victoria mentioned hoarding food, and picking through a leaving child’s possessions. Those are things that foster kids really do – the detachment is real. The inability to connect no matter how strong the desire, the raw fear, the inherent mistrust…it’s all real, I’ve seen it. Diffenbaugh portrayed that in her character wonderfully.
I won’t share spoilers from the book. I will say that there were moments that I was aggravated and frustrated with Victoria. I did not always agree with her decisions. That I was invested enough in her to think those thoughts tells me how much I enjoyed this book. I teared up reading the last pages. I rooted for her second chance at happiness. And the last line of the novel is just perfect. This is a wonderfully moving story of love, trust, flowers, mistakes, and building bridges. Real emotion, compassion, redemption, and healing are ever-present themes throughout each chapter (flashback or present day); the novel draws you in and keeps you turning pages. And as a bonus, I learned a lot about flowers and their meanings! This novel should absolutely be read by everyone. If you’ve read it, share your thoughts with me – I’d love to hear them!
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Hardcover: 363 pages