Title: The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Acquired: Book Expo America 2011
Review: Victoria Jones grew up in the foster care system. Prickly, angry, and difficult, she never really found a family connect with. When she is emancipated from the system at 18, she has nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help. Her only real skill is her deep understanding of the Victorian language of flowers, where each bloom can be used to convey feelings. Victoria is plucked from the streets when a local florist discovers her talent with flowers, but in order to grab on to this lifeline, Victoria needs to confront her past and learn to love and be loved.
I’ve had a copy of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers on my bookshelf since Book Expo America 2011, but despite the lovely reviews it never seemed like a book I wanted to pick up. When I was struggling with insomnia last month, I tried to pick books to read before bed that I thought would be soothing and help lull me to sleep. In that respect, The Language of Flowers was a total failure — I was immediately and totally drawn into this story and had a hard time putting it down each night when I started to feel drowsy.
The biggest draw of the story is the characters. Victoria is utterly fascinating and sympathetic and frustrating. As a product of the foster care system, Victoria grew up being shuttled from home to home, constantly abandoned by the people charged to care for her because of her inability to connect with others. I don’t know much about mental illnesses, but it’s hard not to imagine that Victoria suffers from some undiagnosed form of autism that makes it even more difficult for her to build relationships.
The other characters of the story — Victoria’s boss, a mysterious flower vendor with connections to Victoria’s past, and the one foster mother who had a chance to connect with Victoria — are equally compelling, although never as fully-drawn as Victoria because the book is told from her very skewed point of view.
I also loved the back-and-forth structure of the story, which shifts from the present to Victoria’s past elegantly and effectively. It’s always clear why Diffenbaugh chooses to end a chapter at a certain point, and how each time jump connects to the broader theme and growth Victoria is experiencing.
My one critique is that there’s a sort of strange and, to my mind, unnecessary, undertone of magical realism — Victoria’s connection to flowers makes her able to create arrangements that actually impact people’s lives. For a novel so steeped in an intensely real world of family and love and connection, this slightly fantastical element felt a little out of place to me.
But really, that’s a minor critique when compared to how swiftly and completely I was drawn into this story. The Language of Flowers was beautifully written, with a rich and frustrating central character who I managed to love despite her many flaws and poor decisions, and a plot that kept me turning the pages long after I should have been asleep.
Other Reviews: Words and Peace |
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