#73 review: The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers



308 pages

Published in August 2011 by Ballantine Books


I was totally hooked from the start by this book, by the beauty of its style, its simplicity, and its originality.

I thought the idea was rather original: a teen having been through tons of foster homes and centers, wounded, and thus reacting with violence, despair, and refusing to open up, for fear of more blows, that’s unfortunately common lot. BUT to have her communicate through the Victorian code of flowers, I thought that was a brilliant idea, and it worked really well with the plot.

It is simple in the sense of describing how Victoria is coming of age in that tough context, and how she may OR may not make it (I will NOT tell you). But this simplicity has a lot of impact, evoking her day to day surviving.The author knowing first hand the world of fostering homes, everything sounds so real and true to life.

I really appreciated the way the author connected the past and the present between chapters, by means of a key word, or key sentence, that was neat, and I don’t see this too often.  Cool writing technique.

I enjoyed the beauty of the style, devoid of useless extras, focused on feelings, flowers, communication, and beautiful hearts. I hope I don’t make it too much soap-opera-style, as it is absolutely not the case. This is a beautiful book, that I chose as my September favorite, and it may even be my 2011 favorite so far!

Incidentally, I learned a lot about this Victorian language of flowers. I knew nothing of it; through her heroine, the author shows  all the different possible  levels of understanding, a flower may have different meanings, as Diffenbaugh discovered when she studied this for herself.

This book is also a great illustration of how to successfully incorporate  familiar material (her life as a foster mother, her love for the Victorian language of flowers) in an interesting plot and make it a captivating book.


The Victorian language of flowers was used to express emotions: honeysuckle for devotion, azaleas for passion, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it has been more useful in communicating feelings like 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, Victoria has nowhere to go, and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. When her talent is discovered by a local florist, she discovers her gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But it takes meeting a mysterious vendor at the flower market for her to realise what’s been missing in her own life, and as she starts to fall for him, she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, and decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. “The Language of Flowers” is a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about the meaning of flowers, the meaning of family, and the meaning of love. [Goodreads]


Vanessa Diffenbaugh was born in San Francisco and raised in Chico, California. After studying creative writing and education at Stanford, she went on to teach art and writing to youth in low-income communities. She and her husband, PK, have three children: Tre’von, eighteen; Chela, four; and Miles, three. Tre’von, a former foster child, is attending New York University on a Gates Millennium Scholarship. Diffenbaugh and her family currently live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her husband is studying urban school reform at Harvard.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh is also the founder of the Camellia Network. The mission of the Camellia Network is to create a nationwide movement to support youth transitioning from foster care. In The Language of Flowers, Camellia [kuh-meel-yuh] means “My Destiny is in Your Hands.” The network’s name emphasizes the belief in the interconnectedness of humanity: each gift a young person receives will be accompanied by a camellia, a reminder that the destiny of our nation lies in the hands of our youngest citizens. For more information visit www.camellianetwork.org  [Goodreads]


Sophisticated Dorkiness

I feel it’s only fair to warn you, dear reader, that Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s central character, Victoria Jones, is going to break your heart three ways from Sunday. She’s also going to make you want to pick her up, shake her and scream, why can’t you let yourself be happy? But for Victoria, the answer is as complex as the question is simple. She’s spent her childhood ricocheting through countless foster and group homes, and the experience has left her in pieces. Painfully isolated and deeply mistrustful, she cares only about flowers and their meanings. She herself is like a thistle, a wall of hard-earned thorns.

When we first encounter Victoria, it’s the day of her emancipation from foster care, her eighteenth birthday. “Emancipation” couldn’t be a more ironic word for this moment. For Victoria, as for most foster care survivors—-myself included—-freedom really means free fall. She has nowhere to go, no resources, no one who cares about her. She ends up sleeping in a public park, tending a garden of pilfered blossoms, and living on her wits. It’s only when a local florist sees Victoria’s special way with flowers that she is given a means to survive. But survival is just the beginning. The more critical question is will Victoria let herself love and be loved?

The storyline weaves skillfully between the heavy burden of Victoria’s childhood—-her time with Elizabeth, the foster mother who taught her the language of flowers and also wounded her more deeply than Victoria can bear to remember—-and the gauntlet of her present relationship with Grant, a flower vendor who’s irrevocably linked to the darkest secret of her past. At its core, The Language of Flowers is a meditation on redemption, and on how even the most profoundly damaged might learn to forgive and be forgiven. By opening up Victoria’s very difficult inner world to us, Vanessa Diffenbaugh shows us a corner of experience hidden to most, and with an astonishing degree of insight and compassion. So hold on, and keep the tissue box nearby. This is a book you won’t soon forget. –Paula McLain [Amazon]

There’s also a great Q & A with the author here.