|Ritter Park, Huntington, West Virginia|
"A rose is a rose is a rose." ~ Gertrude Stein, Sacred Emily
Book Description (from randomhouse.com): The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, aster 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 that she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market inspires her to question 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.
"I'm talking about the language of flowers," Elizabeth said. "It's from the Victorian era, like your name. If a man gave a young lady a bouquet of flowers, she would race home and try to decode it like a secret message. Red roses mean love, yellow roses infidelity. So a man would have to choose his flowers carefully." (Page 29)
My Thoughts: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Ballantine, Random House, Inc. 2011) opens slowly like the petals of a cut rose bud. We meet Victoria as a young girl struggling in the foster care system. Her story is told in alternating chapters between her past and present day in which she is 18-years-old and struggling to survive in a world that she was not prepared to navigate. The sequences flow so easily that the book becomes a quick page turner, unraveling the meaning of the story with each new flower given.
The Language of Flowers helps to give a voice to foster children and the emotions they experience when living in unstable conditions. When Victoria is enlisted in the care of a Elizabeth, a single, young woman living on a small vineyard, she starts to believe that she has finally found a permanent home and is introduced to the world of flowers. But Elizabeth is recovering from her own mother-daughter conflicts and an estranged relationship with her sister. Victoria quickly discovers that she will complete her childhood in the system and through her rage changes everyone's future with her actions.
Once emancipated, a chance encounter with a flower shop owner changes Victoria's future and sets her on the path to finally recovering from years of emotional turmoil and suffering. As she begins to develop a sense of independence, her new life leads her directly back to the past she has tried desperately to forget, forcing her to confront her mistakes. This circle delivers a reconciliation between Victoria and the only mother she has known as she herself discovers motherhood.
Diffenbaugh weaves the lives of her characters together seamlessly, creating a story that is not only intriguing with its use of Victorian flower rituals but also engaging as it addresses the challenging aspects of foster care and children within the system. Like a full and fragrant bouquet, The Language of Flowers is a novel full of variety and beauty, reminding us of the importance of family and the art of communication.
About the Author:
Vanessa Diffenbaugh was born in San Francisco and raised in Chico, California. After studying creative writing and education at Stanford, she went on to teach art and writing to youth in low-income communities. She and her husband, PK, have three children: Tre’von, eighteen; Chela, four; and Miles, three. Tre’von, a former foster child, is attending New York University on a Gates Millennium Scholarship. Diffenbaugh and her family currently live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her husband is studying urban school reform at Harvard.