Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book #72: The Language of Flowers

I heard about The Language of Flowers this summer when I attended a book preview lunch at ALA in New Orleans. During that hour session, I heard about a number of forthcoming books, mostly fiction, that would hit bookstores and libraries this autumn. I was lucky enough to get to bring some advanced reading copies home with me, but not every book the publishing staff book talked was available. I had to wait, just like everyone else, for The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. After finishing it last night, I can attest that it was well worth the wait.

The story opens with Victoria, a lifelong ward of the state, about to age out of her group home placement. Finally eighteen, she will now be emancipated and truly subject to only her own decisions. Victoria was always a somewhat difficult child, but her behavior stemmed only from what her upbringing was steeped in: abandonment, abuse, and dashed hopes. When Victoria steps out on her own for the first time, all she has is a backpack of a few belongings, an emotional mess of guilt and misanthropy, and a particular talent for flowers.

The Language of Flowers is told mostly in chapters alternating between Victoria's present and her time, ages 9-11, with a foster mother with whom she thought she could finally stay. This span of her childhood is the root of her guilt but also the budding of her love and talent for flowers. Her foster mother taught her the Victorian meanings of flowers--how gentlemen would express their feelings for ladies through deliberate selection of particular flowers. Victoria takes this skill, along with her natural proclivity for arranging flowers, into her new adult life. After a stint of homelessness, she finds work with a florist. She feels competent, if not completely comfortable, arranging bouquets for customers with desires for very specific emotions in their lives, and she becomes known for creating beautiful arrangements that express the customers' feelings.

Victoria can speak the language of flowers, and she feels pride and happily alone in her ability to convey messages through blooms without anyone else's knowledge. Then she meets a man at the flower market; his focus on her immediately puts her on edge, but she is even more taken aback when he begins to give her single flowers that convey messages to her. It turns out that Victoria is not as pleasantly alone as she thought. Suddenly this man causes her present and her past to collide, and for the first time Victoria must confront her own feelings, both about her past and herself.

The Language of Flowers is a beautiful piece of storytelling. The characters are very well developed, and it is difficult not to feel for them--especially Victoria, even though she does some truly awful things. The use of the Victorian language of flowers adds a beautiful and slightly mysterious, ethereal element to the novel--can we really communicate and influences lives with flowers? There is a lot to talk about in this book: flowers, the foster care system, family, personal guilt. I would suggest this book to readers who enjoy complex characters, beautiful descriptions, and themes of forgiveness.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished. Once I started reading, I didn't want to put it down. What a wonderful book! Thanks for the recommendation.