Title: The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publisher: Ballantine (2011)
Rating: 5 stars
I saw Ms. Diffenbaugh speak back in the Fall at the Boston Book Festival. At the time, I knew nothing about her or her book but I liked listening to her and was intrigued by her own history as a foster parent.
Having just read The Kid, my whole outlook on the foster care system was pretty negative/pessimistic. And my brain was like CAN’T handle another tragic story about a kid no one cares about. Diffenbaugh even said something along the lines of the narrator will break your heart. I was like UGH AGAIN?? To quote Feist, “too many heartaches in one lifetime ain’t good for you.”
Despite hoping to avoid a state of bookish depression, I am perpetually drawn to books that will make me feel a deep range of emotions and The Language of Flowers promised to do just that.
The story begins with Victoria, a foster child, who is 18 and finally old enough to leave the group home where she has lived the last few years of her life. As a child, Victoria bounced around from home to home where she was abused, forgotten, and forever unloved. This constant state of emotional upheaval turned her into a harden young woman, violent and cruel.
The closest Victoria ever got to being adopted was when she was 9 years old. Elizabeth, a young woman who lives alone in the country with a dark and painful history of her own, took her in and the two grew to love each other through their mutual affinity for The Language of Flowers*, but something terrible happens and the two are torn apart. And Victoria is just swimming in guilt.
Victoria gets a job and becomes involved with a man who is connected to Elizabeth (as a way to stay close to E??). However, Victoria can’t seem to feel for him what he feels for her. Her emotions are stunted–or at least so deeply buried as to appear stunted–by years of neglect and the guilt and shame that comes with it.When she gets preggo she flees the scene without a word.
This is the point in the story that I was like FINALLY she is going to get those motherly hormones and start realizing that her life could be so much more than what it has been up to this point. BUT NO. Of course she screws it up (what kind of story would it be if she didnt?!), because she feels like everything she loves or touches she ruins. And you’re conflicted, hating her and sympathizing with her, wanting her to grow-up, and contemplating the ripple effect of one seriously effed up system.
The back and forth from present time to past is a great juggling act on the part of Ms. Diffenbaugh. You don’t know what the awful thing that tore the women apart was until near the end of the story–and you’re just dying to know the whole time. I was so engrossed that I read this story in ONE day. Also, don’t worry the ending is nothing like The Kid. It’s actually conclusive and beautiful and not too oh-everything-is-going-to-be-perfect.***The Victorian (get it..) Language of Flowers was used to convey meaning, usually romantic messages or the like. It is used cleverly in this book (esp. between Victoria and her lover). Plus, I love that the entire language, which at first seems very straightforward, is complicated toward the end of the book by the introduction of multiple Language of Flower dictionaries. **As is usually the case with my 5 star reviews, I’m at a loss as to how to show you how freakin’ good this book is. I want to talk about ALL THE THINGS but there is only so much space and only so much attention span :)