Victoria Jones is not an easy young woman to like. Having just been emancipated from the foster care system and living in a group home for an adjustment period, she has a short time to get her act together and find a job to help pay the rent. But Victoria makes no attempt to find a job and eventually finds herself homeless, living in a city park, where she plants a small garden. Defiant and unable to relate to anyone, flowers provide the only happiness in her life.
|Purple Coneflower--"Strength and Health" *|
Eventually, she manages to find a job at a local florist where she begins to create special floral arrangements, not based on color or design so much as on the meanings of the individual flowers. The owner realizes what a talent Victoria has as customers return, specifically asking for an arrangement from Victoria to cure various heartaches or to spice up their love life.
|Yarrow--"Cure for a broken heart"|
One day Victoria meets a boy from her past, and she is forced to confront a secret trauma from her childhood. Eventually, she must decide whether she can open her heart enough to share her life with another person.
|Zinnia--"I mourn your absence"|
The novel alternates between the present and the past, scenes from Victoria's childhood. Although not a mystery, the reader wonders what is this terrible secret that Victoria has harbored for the past ten years? And why did Elizabeth, the foster mother who taught her about flowers and seemed to be the only person that Victoria ever cared for, give her up? I kept turning the pages to find out.
|Lilies symbolize majesty, but a daylily represents coquetry.|
The Language of Flowers is an impressive debut novel: an interesting story line, well-developed characters, a plausible ending, and thought-provoking themes. Vanessa Diffenbaugh was herself a foster mother and a teacher for disadvantaged children; her experience no doubt helped to create the authentic characters of this novel.
|Cosmos--"Joy in Love and Life"|
Anyone who has been involved in the education system or in social services has met a Victoria somewhere along the way. I know I often wondered when I had a student like this in class, what makes this child so hateful, so unresponsive to kindness and sincere offers of help? Diffenbaugh’s description of Victoria’s experiences in the foster care system—some of them horrible (though she doesn’t dwell on graphic details, thankfully)--helps to make sense of these kids and makes one want to reach out to them again. But Victoria’s story does have hope—that the power of unconditional love can eventually touch even the hardest of hearts.
* The meanings of flowers given here are taken from the glossary at the end of the novel. The interpretation of various flowers, however, differs from source to source.
Disclaimer: No compensation of any kind was received for this review. I review only books I like and think others would enjoy reading; I either purchase my own copy or, as in the case of this book, check them out from my local library.
To see what others are reading this month, check out more reviews at Barrie Summy's.