Title: The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Victoria Jones has been in the foster care system for most of her life, and now that she’s eighteen, she’s being emancipated. She has nowhere to go, nothing except her love of flowers. Flowers have a language of their own, and for years, Victoria has used them to convey her cynicism and mistrust of the world. But when a flower shop owner gives Victoria an opportunity to work for her, Victoria realizes that she may have a second chance at life.
The Language of Flowers is the story of Victoria Jones, a girl who is struggling to overcome her past. Victoria hasn’t had an easy life – she’s been abused by foster families and ended up in a group home for most of her teens. The reader gets a firsthand look at these difficulties through the secondary storyline running through the novel, which consists of flashbacks to Victoria’s childhood. After being removed from a vicious family that took pleasure in starving Victoria, she is given her last chance at adoption with a woman named Elizabeth. While young Victoria rebels against Elizabeth at the beginning, she quickly realizes that Elizabeth loves her, and she is in it for the long run. Why, then, the reader asks, does Victoria end up in a group home? What happened between her and Elizabeth? These questions keep the reader in suspense and drive the narrative forward at a steady pace.
Victoria herself is a difficult character at times. She has definitely had a difficult life, but at the same time, her refusal to help herself can be very frustrating. For example, at the beginning of the The Language of Flowers, her social worker sets Victoria up in an apartment, instructing her to find a job in order to pay the rent or she will be evicted after three months. Victoria does nothing on this front, wasting away the three months, and ends up homeless living in the park. It’s only after that that Victoria bothers to look for work at the flower shop. I was completely baffled why Victoria didn’t try to help herself by finding a job before she was evicted, and this thread runs through the book. As the book progresses, Victoria finds herself surrounded by people who care for her and want to help. I could completely understand her lack of trust in others, considering what she’s been through, as well as her desire to keep her pride, but this character trait was very frustrating.
The focus on the Victorian language of flowers was a very nice touch. Victoria communicates through flowers, and ends up helping others by selling them flowers that will assist with their problems. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn something and it gives the reader some insight into Victoria. She learned about the language of flowers from Elizabeth, and it’s clearly something she’s held onto, even if she appears to have left Elizabeth behind.
Despite the fact that I often want to reach through the pages and shake some sense into Victoria, I very much enjoyed The Language of Flowers. The main character frustrated me, but I felt deeply for her. I wanted her to be happy, even if she seemed to sabotage any chance at happiness that presented itself. I cared very much, and was impressed with Diffenbaugh’s ability to develop a complex character and weave a compelling story around her. This is an engaging work of contemporary fiction that would make a great book club selection, as readers are likely to have strong opinions about Victoria.