Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: "The Language of Flowers" by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Crossing the first title off of my "Summer Reading" list!  Definitely a good one.  Up next:  The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.

The Language of Flowers centers around Victoria, a just emancipated eighteen year old that has been hardened by a lifetime of being passed around through the foster care system.  From the time of her abandonment, Victoria has had little experience with security, familial love and positive relationships.  In a sense, Victoria has almost always been “on her own” and this is just the first time she has no one directing her next movement.  She doesn’t have a family, a plan, hopes or dreams, but she does have her connection to flowers.  Homeless, she spends her days creating a garden in an untended section of a park until, driven by hunger and necessity, she uses her talent to secure a job with a local florist.  Here, Victoria’s boundaries are tested.  She is uncomfortable with opening up, gets ill at the slightest touch, and has no desire to be attached to anyone or anything permanent.  Anything that is, aside from her flowers.  And suddenly, in the form of a young man at a flower market, it all begins to change.  She is forced to consider a future, but also to face the secrets of her past.

The story opens on the day of Victoria’s emancipation, and alternates between momentous moments of her childhood and her current struggles to overcome her past, forgive herself, and learn to love.  Diffenbaugh’s history as a foster parent lends great authenticity to the characters and their complicated relationships.  I found her writing to be very real, and at times raw.  She doesn’t hold back on showing the good and the bad of her characters in order to win the reader’s approval of them.  This is especially true of Victoria.  You won’t always like her…in fact there were a few times when I was reading that I wanted to look away.  But, if you’re like me, you will always root for her.  I think it’s because underneath it all, we can sense that she’s doing her best with what she has…it’s just that what she has isn’t much. 

And then there are the flowers.  Flowers are to this book what New York is to Sex and the City.  The story would be impossible to tell without them.  Diffenbaugh is well versed in the use of flowers to communicate in Victorian times, which I found fascination.  From the beginning the flowers are critical in understanding who Victoria is.  Where Victoria doesn’t “get” people…or herself for that matter, she “gets” flowers.  They become her key to learning to communicate honestly, to understanding others, and to making new beginnings.

One additional note:  Vanessa Diffenbaugh co-founded the Camellia Network to support children “aging out” of the foster care system.  Check out her website…the statistics are staggering. 

Have you read The Language of Flowers?  What did you think? 

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