The Language of Flowers
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Words. Words are an incredible gift. How do I find the words to describe this book and do it justice? I suppose I’ll begin like I usually do-how I decided to read this book. We just moved and I thought that joining our town’s library book group might be a good place to meet people. The December book was The Language of Flowers. I read the back and didn’t really get excited-it sounded like it might be sad. But, I was intrigued by the flowers and their meanings (the subject has always interested me), and I’m trying to broaden my reading (aka not just read happy, feel good children’s literature, haha!). So, I decided to go for it. An ironic side note: I actually can’t even go to the book group after all! However, I’m so glad I decided to give The Language of Flowers a chance. Diffenbaugh is gifted to say the least, and certainly has a way with words. From the moment I began reading I was entranced. It took me a bit to follow the flow because it hops between the present and the past, but once I got going it was very easy to get swept away. The characters are believable, real, and raw. Honestly, this was one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve read and I cried through the whole book. I really thought things would end in a dark place, but Diffenbaugh weaves in hope in a beautiful (and not schmaltzy) way. I really respect the way the book is real in it’s dark places as well as it’s light and joyful.
Some spoilers ahead for the next two paragraphs (there’s a lot I want to remember from this book!): Victoria is the main character and is in and out of foster homes until she turns nine. She comes to live with Elizabeth, a single woman who runs her own vineyard. It is a rocky relationship which soon turns into a loving one. Elizabeth has cut herself off from her sister, Catherine, because she stole Elizabeth’s love away when they were younger. Catherine doesn’t fair well because the young man abandons her pregnant with a son, Grant. The animosity is great until Elizabeth decides she wants to reconcile (at this point, Catherine is suffering from mental illness and refuses to talk to Elizabeth). Victoria can’t understand why Elizabeth would want to do that and decides to take matters into her own hands by burning the vineyard and blaming Catherine. It backfires and Victoria is sent back into foster car until she turns 18. When she is out of the system, a florist takes her in and gives her a job. She meets Grant through this and they fall in love and Victoria gets pregnant. All this time Victoria struggles with self hate and hate towards all around her. She believes she will never be good enough and always will ruin a good relationship, so she leaves the baby with Grant and disappears. She ends up with a successful florist business and in the end is able to reconcile with Grant, Elizabeth, and her baby girl, Hazel. The end of the book closes with plans towards a healthy, whole family, allowing for Victoria to take baby steps to get there. Throughout the whole book is also the concept of the meanings behind each flower. Elizabeth and Catherine teach this to Victoria and Grant and that is how they in turn begin communicating and part of the way Victoria finds healing. There is much, much more, but that is the broad synopsis.
This book is raw and honest and beautiful. I don’t know much about the foster care system, to that was eye opening for me. Victoria is so hard and bitter and stubborn-you really want to shake sense into her as she runs away from love again and again. But you realize that she’s never known love and you root for her the whole book and hope for her when she has none. I think a lot of books tie things up very happily in a “too good to be true” way. I mean, I love that, but it can be a little much. So, I love that this ending is different. Victoria is reconciled, but it’s too much for her to live with everyone, so she will begin her new life living alone, but being with Elizabeth, Grant, and Hazel, moving toward living with her family and being a mother. The last line of the book is beautiful, “Over time, we [Hazel and Victoria speaking] would learn each other, and I would learn to love her like a mother loves a daughter, imperfectly and without roots.” My final love of this book is how Victoria changes from a closed, bitter person, to a woman who is letting herself change and opening herself to receiving love.
Summing it up: Read with tissues and keep hope even when things are dark! I loved this one and I highly recommend it!
All the best, Abbey