Review–The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Summary: A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.
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.

Source: I borrowed a paperback from a friend.

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I have had this on book on my shelf for ages and never really wanted to read it. I’m not a plant/flower person and don’t experience joy in tending any kind of garden and the book just sort of seemed like that sort of story. For the past few days, I’ve been unable to get into any book and have been bouncing between 5 or 6 books and feeling generally apathetic about any of them. Finally, I picked this up because I knew I’d see my friend again and really wanted to be able to hand it back to her.

Immediately, I was hooked. For the first time in over a week, I was able to slide right into a story and get comfortable. I don’t know if the first person narrative is what drew me in initially or if it was the general messed-up-ness of the main character. It was obvious that she was terrible, miserable, and altogether lost. I wanted to know more about her and why she ended up that way and what could have happened to land her back in the group home.

Victoria’s story was captivating. She was an orphan who lived in various homes, all of them terrible, up until her last home right before she was 10. After 10, I guess she was to be considered unadoptable and she’d end up back in the group home until she reached 18. The book began with her being 18 and leaving the home, but some chapters went back to when she was 10 at her very last home with Elizabeth, who taught her about flowers and what they mean.

In some ways, the book had a White Oleander feel to it. The main character had issues, was reserved and somewhat withdrawn, and was placed into group homes and homes that didn’t work out, just like the main character in White Oleander. The circumstances and overall message was different, but the tone was similar as well. Not knowing what happened with Elizabeth was a major factor in my interest of the story. I wanted to see Victoria adapt at 18, but I also burned with curiosity as to how everything went so wrong with her last home. Elizabeth seemed great, so I didn’t know what went wrong. It was interesting to watch the story unfold and watch Victoria excel as something after she became an adult. Her encounters with Grant were sweet, complicated, and interesting as well.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and highly recommend it, I do think it’s unrealistic, especially towards the end. I didn’t dislike Victoria, but I realize that a character like her in real life would not be someone with whom anyone would sympathize with. She was nasty and she often made no sense with her actions. Her actions after becoming a mother were insanely unrealistic as well, including the way the conflict was resolved at the end. The main reason this never bothered me was that I read a lot of unrealistic fiction anyway and don’t really expect characters to act accordingly with my world. Contemporary fiction is rarely my go-to genre. But also, I’m not a mother and I’m less inclined to be shocked and offended by less-than-motherly actions and decisions. I can see why so many reviewers were left feeling slightly miffed by the character’s actions, though.

Despite the unrealistic feel towards the end and slightly throughout the story, it was awesome. It was a great debut novel with a ton of redemption and love. I loved the idea of the flowers being a language and communicating a message and I loved how the author weaved that into a complicated story with extremely flawed characters. I’m giving it a full 5 stars because it took me right out of my reading slump that I was in for over a week.


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