Title: The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Star Rating (out of 5) *****
For: Fans of Kate Morton, Sara Gruen, Kristen Hannah; anyone interested in foster care, adoption, and why we act the way we do.
“ ‘This is it, you know,’ she said. ‘Your life starts here. No one to blame but yourself from here on out.’
Meredith Combs, the social worker responsible for selecting the stream of adoptive families that gave me back, wanted to talk to me about blame.”
I’ve been putting off writing this review because, honestly, this book grabbed my heart, pulled it out of my chest, broke it into a bunch of pieces, scooped them up, mashed them together, and smooshed them back in my chest, where my heart whimpered something along the lines of “Thump, thump–I need to change the world.”
And how do you write a review about THAT?
But this is definitely a book worthy of a little P.R. and a high recommendation, so I’m going to do my best.
After 18 years in the foster care system, Victoria Jones closes the door on her last foster home with venom and sets out on her own. Having nowhere to go, she quickly finds herself homeless, alone, and hungry, sleeping in the woods behind a park. She spends her days stealing flowers from neighborhood gardens and transplanting them to her wooded hideaway, where she tends them and pushes down memories of the garden where years ago she leaned the language of flowers. Most of all, she tries to forget Elizabeth, the woman who taught her about flowers, and her promise that “Nothing you could do would make me send you away…my response will always be the same: I will love you, and I will keep you.”
Unable and unwilling to communicate with anyone, Victoria instead bundles up flowers to communicate in her own secret language: the Victorian “language” of flower meanings. Of course, no one understands the thorny messages she is sending: yellow carnations for disdain, peony for anger, thistle for misanthropy.
One day, after managing to get hired part time at a florist shop, Victoria is pushing her way through a crowded flower market when a vendor at one of the stands offers her a lily, meaning “queen.” She scornfully snaps it in half and offers him a glare and a rhododendron in return: “beware.” Unused to having anyone understand the biting messages she sends in her flowers, she is stunned when the next week he wordlessly offers her a sprig of mistletoe. Its meaning? “I surmount all obstacles.”
This book is wonderfully written, profound, agonizing, and inspiring all in one. I was sucked in from the first page, and flew through the entire book in 24 hours. Diffenbaugh does a masterful job of helping us understand Victoria’s pain, vulnerability, and longing as she skillfully moves the plot back and forth from the present to Victoria’s childhood. You alternately want to shake her and want to scoop her up and weep with her as she sabotages and runs from relationships out of fear. Most importantly, Diffenbaugh helps you understand why Victoria acts the way she does; reactions that would be simply maddening and/or terrifying from an outside perspective become achingly understandable when we understand what Victoria has been through.
If you’ve ever wanted to get involved in some sort of care for children without families, or you know any adoptive or foster parents (particularly of older children), this is a must-read.
P.S. This was one of my favorite book picks I took to my “Books and Chocolate” party. Click the link to read more!