Thursday, August 25, 2011
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. -- Ballantine
After attending the Random House Tea at BEA 2011, I knew that many people were very excited about the release of THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Many of the publicists had already read the book and they even had an in-house book club discussion. Believe me when I say that everyone was talking about this novel. And after finishing this novel, I have to agree with them -- this book is worthy of a great deal of discussion. THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS was an outstanding book; and as far as I'm concerned, it just might be the must-read novel of the fall season!
THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS is the story of Victoria, a complex young woman who grew up in various foster homes and orphanages. The story begins on her 18th birthday when Victoria is emancipated from the foster care system. For the first time in her life, she is totally on her own with nowhere to go and no one to tell her what to do. It was obvious to me that Victoria had a troubled past, yet I only saw glimpses of the pain she incurred. She was angry and alone, and she wasn't even able to effectively communicate with others... except through the use of flowers. (Hence the title of the novel!)
As Victoria learned to navigate the world, she faced many exciting changes including meeting a mysterious flower seller who seemed to understand her "language of flowers." When she discovered that she was having feelings for this man -- feelings that she didn't think she was capable of, she began to question her own life and she wondered whether she would be able to even find happiness. As part of her self-awareness, she was also forced to explore her troubled past and perhaps even begin to forgive herself.
Where do I even begin talking about THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS? I absolutely, positively adored this book, and I know I'm only going to be able to touch upon a few reasons why. First and foremost, I loved the characters. Victoria is unlike any character I've encountered in my recent reading (any maybe ever.) She is incredibly damaged from her childhood and feels as if she's not worthy of happiness. Over and over again, my heart just broke for her because of the constant turmoil she exhibited. And while Victoria was most certainly a fascinating character and one that will stay in my thoughts for a long time, I also loved her foster mother Elizabeth, her friend Renata, and her love interest Grant. The interactions and relationships between these characters was wonderful and so incredibly complex.
Another thing that made THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS so great was the writing. Ms. Diffenbaugh is an amazing writer and I was blown away by so much her prose. Not only did she create some fantastic character, but it was evident to me that Ms. Diffenbaugh truly understood them and their experiences. (Note: Ms. Diffenbaugh and her husband are foster parents and she is the founder of the Camellia Network whose mission is to create a nationwide movement to support youth transitioning from foster care.) I also loved the author decided to tell Victoria's story -- by alternating between her present day experiences and her past. While I knew from the start that Victoria was still dealing with some events from her childhood, it wasn't until the book neared its end that I discovered the truth. I just loved how Victoria's story slowly unfolded because
I finally was able to truly understand the pain she was experiencing.
And lastly, I was so impressed with the symbolism and themes that were woven into the story. I loved the idea behind the story -- that a woman could only effectively communicate through flowers; and I found it fascinating to learn what the various flowers represented. (You can check out a flower dictionary here.) But there were also so many deeper literary symbols that existed in this novel. For example, I appreciated how the themes of food, fire, and even moss took on meaningful roles in Victoria's life.
THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS is an absolutely perfect book for book clubs. In fact, I would love to discuss Victoria with a few of my closest friends. I am pretty confident in saying that most female readers will appreciate this story, and I have no doubt that there is a great deal to talk about. There is a reading guide available which really touches upon so many of the themes from this story. Some of the topics you might want to explore include the language of flowers, the foster care system, the theme of food/nourishment, mother/daughter relationships, family, love, communication, trust, forgiveness, second chances, and redemption. I especially loved thinking about the definition of moss and how it related to Victoria's life.
I'm certain that my review did not do justice to this novel, but I hope that I at least sparked a desire in some of you to pick up THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS. I thought it was an excellent novel and one that will touch your heart with the beauty of the characters, the relevant themes, and the gorgeous prose.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher at the 2011 BEA.