Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Summary: The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating 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 and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I have to admit that the concept of the language of flowers from the Victorian era was not really something on my radar. I think I’ve heard of it, and I thought that I knew some basic flowers (red roses: love, yellow roses: friendship, that’s pretty much it, maybe a few other types of roses...) but boy was I wrong. And actually, I found it to be fascinating.

This is an interesting little book. It was another book club choice (welcome back to the book club, distant readers!) and it’s not what I expected. First of all, the cover makes it seem like some innocent little coming of age novel, possibly one from the Victorian era (because of the discussion of the language of flowers). So from there I have to admit I wasn’t really looking forward to it being my New Favorite Read, but figured I’d probably like it okay, or at least tolerable enough to finish it so that I could participate in the book club discussion. Boy was I wrong. This book cannot be judged by its cover. Within its pages is not a gentle story of Victorian love and girls in petticoats flitting about tending their gardens. Oh, no. This book is about very heavy things—love and loss, the tragedy of a girl who experiences the worst of the foster care system, and those who surround her for whatever reason, whether they’re obligated to or feel like they connect with her or feel sorry for her. It’s a take-no-prisoners type of situation where the main character is actually quite difficult to like. You can empathize with her for sure—she’s obviously seen some very horrible things in her life—but it is hard to actually like her all the time. You can appreciate her talent, you can understand why she does what she does, but she is, for all intents and purposes, quite toxic. That makes the book difficult. But it also makes it easy. Because the story is a complex but satisfying one, and although there is a particular part in the book (which I will not divulge as I don’t want to spoil it) where I really didn’t like what was happening because not only was it horrible but it was also unrealistic. Some of the characters do not act true to what I think they would have done, either, which made for a somewhat manipulative feel of the story line as opposed to something organic. But it is what it is. The book is heavy and yet healing.

One of the coolest parts of the book was the language of flowers. The more I learned about it, the more I liked it. Be sure not to skip the glossary at the end, either, because it is a huge list of flowers and their meanings. We had a great time at book club reading over the meaning of flowers. Some of them were quite hilarious, actually, and archaic in their use but almost charmingly so. I love what the main character does with the meaning of flowers (and again, I have to be vague here) and I love what it becomes as more and more people also embrace the power and meaning of the flowers. It almost has a magical realism element to it, which is fun. I really wish I could go into more detail about this, but I don’t want to spoil what is perhaps the most charming and memorable facet of the book.

This was actually an excellent choice for book club. There was a lot to discuss, and although different people had different feelings about the plot twists, I think everybody liked it. I’m happy that I read it. Even though it has been on my “to read” list for awhile, it’s not one that I would pick up before the other ones that seem to be popping out to be read, and there are a lot of those.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and some discussion of sex, although nothing explicit or too disgusting. There are some hard parts to read about abuse in foster home situations. I did not hear any complaints from my book club of some very conservative women.

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