Language of Flowers (Review)

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The Language of Flowers
Vanessa Diffenbaugh
336 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
January 2012

We first meet Victoria Jones as she wakes up on her 18th birthday to find a row of matches at the bottom of her bed set ablaze. If we're thinking something's not normal, we'd be right.

Nothing has been normal in Victoria's life: an abandoned newborn passed from foster parent to foster parent, she finally landed in a home for emotionally troubled girls. The world has been a hostile place, and on this day Victoria is to be released into its unwelcoming arms. Today she's 18 and on her own.

Victoria tends to say very little—she maintains an angry, distrustful silence. Yet she's fluent in a language all her own, the forgotten language of flowers, once used by Victorians as a symbolic way of speaking—about love and desire or sorrow and regret—through plants. Victoria uses her flower knowledge—and intuitive talent for reading people—to heal herself and others.

Interlaced with the present story is the past story of Victoria's life, especially her placement in Elizabeth Hasting's care. Elizabeth owns a vineyard and becomes the closest thing to a mother Victoria will ever know. It is Elizabeth who teaches her the language of flowers. Yet we know early on that something went very wrong during her time with Elizabeth...and that "something" becomes the central mystery that must be plumbed by Victoria and readers alike.

Helping the heroine along the way are three other characters who, though not wholly believable, garner our affection—and eventually Victoria's trust. They all see something in Victoria that she has yet to recognize in herself.

Flowers have long stood as a metaphor for the beauty yet fragility of life (see LitCourse 9). In this charming tale, they convey additional meaning—plants go beyond the spoken word to connect us with our deeper, more instinctual selves. They remind us of our unbreakable connection to the natural world—that, like flowers, we may be broken, dead in spirit, but within us lies the power to grow and blossom again and again.

This is a wonderful read for book clubs: the characters and decisions they make will lead to endless discussions!

See our Reading Guide for The Language of Flowers.

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