The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

This book was recommended by Book Passage and I am glad I read it. The Language of Flowers is set in San Francisco and tells the story of Victoria, an emancipated foster child, who has spent her whole life in foster care. It shines a light on the cruelty of the foster care system and the abruptness in which the system dumps a young adult once they turn 18.  Victoria is happy to be free of the system and immediately pursues her passion: flowers. The image of this young woman who has not been nurtured save one foster mother who taught her about flowers is now nurturing the earth. The author does an excellent job conveying the challenges for foster children, especially the heartbreak. She speaks from experience as Diffenbach is an advocate for foster children and she was a foster mother. In fact, some of the proceeds from this book will go for the Camellia Network,  a support net(work) for youth aging out of foster care.

But  flowers are easier than people. Armed with  defense mechanisms because of the life she led in the foster care system, Victoria is a survivor. There is sadness, frustration and glimpses of hope. She attracts good people who want to be helpful, but for Victoria, help doesn’t look the same to her as it does to most people. She longs for connection and family but is afraid of loss so she is in limbo- wanting but rejecting. Victoria’s story is told in alternating chapters of her life now and the past. Slowly we find out the explosive story of what happened between Victoria and the foster mother who was planning to adopt her. The foster mother teaches her about flowers and unconditional love, but something happens to stop the adoption. The story is brutal and creates a Victoria who is not always likeable, but you understand.

“The overriding emotional message of “The Language of Flowers” has to do with family. Victoria desperately wants one. But she thinks that she is too damaged to learn how to love. A likelier outcome:  a great big bouquet of aster (patience), daffodil (new beginnings), honeysuckle (devotion), hyacinth (constancy) and moss (maternal love) will await her in the flowery future “( Maslin, September 7,2011, N.Y. Times Book Review).

There are several themes in the book. The book uses the language of flowers, a Victorian era method of communicating through flowers, and provides a flower dictionary for the reader in the back of the book. I learned alot about the meaning of flowers and Victoria’s skill at arranging flowers attracts many followers. Themes of homelessness, attachment disorder and foster care are just a few of the other topics. Yet, in spite of all the sadness and cruel twists it does leave you with hope. That’s my 2cents, Tracy.

One comment on “The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

  1. Mary says:

    Thanks Tracy! Reading this now and enjoying it. Just finished The Final Leap, thanks for all the great recommendations!

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