Genres: Literary, Psychological, Sagas
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.
Memorable story of hope and resilience.
My Thoughts about The Language of Flowers
It’s hard for me to know where to start with this book. It has been on my to-read list for quite some time. It finally came to the top of the list because it was my pick for the book club I am a part of. From the beginning, I was hooked.
The Language of Flowers is narrated by one of the principle characters, Victoria Jones, who is a former foster child in California. The story begins the day of her emancipation from foster care – a topic I’m rather familiar with. (I have worked for a nonprofit organization serving children, youth, families, and professionals in the foster care, adoption, and child welfare worlds for the past 13 years. Aging out, or emancipating from the foster care system, is a heartbreaking fact for far too many young people.) Chapter by chapter, Victoria tells her story; first in the present, then in the past. Through her voice, we meet Elizabeth, the woman who nearly adopted Victoria when she was 10 years old, and who Victoria has never forgotten. It was Elizabeth who taught Victoria the meaning and the language of flowers. She planted the seed in a young and troubled girl’s heart that resulted in Victoria finally attaching to something in a way she had never been able to before.
As Victoria’s story unfolds, she talks about many flowers and their meaning. I found myself pausing frequently to look up photos of the flowers so I could better visualize the description. (Sure, I know the basics, but I’ve long been fascinated with flowers. I try my sort-of green thumb at container gardening with okay results, but I know that I’m more passionate about looking at flowers and visiting gardens than actually gardening. And I’m okay with that.) I loved how Victoria, once she knew about the language and meaning of different flowers, used them to communicate – whether or not the recipients of her missives understood or not.
A lot of Victoria’s behavior, I’m sure, seemed harsh and foreign to a lot of readers, but I really applaud the author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, herself a foster parent, for painting a picture of a child with attachment difficulties with such a true brush. It was hard to watch some of the scenes play out within the story, but it was a realistic representation. Victoria, by the time she was 19 years old, had suffered so much that it would have been laughable to produce a well-adjusted, warm, easily-reachable adult ready to settle into her life and into relationships – whether it be between friends, co-workers, or lovers. It would have rung false and would have made me set the book aside, without a doubt.
I found The Language of Flowers to be moving, haunting, and, ultimately, a story of hope and redemption. As Victoria herself says,
“Perhaps the unattached, the unwanted, the unloved, could grow to give love as lushly as anyone else.”
(What I find even more moving is the fact that the author took her royalties from this novel – her first – and launched the Camellia Network, an organization working to create a nationwide movement to support youth making the transition from foster care to independence. It’s commendable and it shows that not only was she inspired by her own experiences as a foster mother, but she’s willing to continue to work for these at-risk young people who are aging out of the system at an alarming rate.)