28 September 2012

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Flap Copy from ARC: "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."

This book is truly wonderful. The writing is compelling, the characters are real and their lives move the reader - at different points my reaction varied from extreme frustration with and sadness for Victoria and her life situations, to joy in the beautiful and descriptive prose, to curiosity about the truth behind this language of flowers.

The novel is told in alternating chapters - some from the present day, some from the year Victoria was ten years old. That period in her life was her last childhood chance at having a family, before she became a permanent ward of the foster care system. Diffenbaugh paints a heartbreaking and vivid picture, not only of Victoria's past but also of her present. Even as Victoria made me want to scream at her in frustration, I was riveted to the book in the desperate hope that a new page would bring her closer to the love and happiness she seeks. Victoria's voice is at times hard, at times fearful, but always strong, as she relays the harsh realities of her time in foster care and reveals some scars that might never heal. At the same time, I never felt preached-to by the author, nor did she ever try too hard to draw sympathy from the reader - rather, Victoria's complete lack of desire for empathy was the strongest draw for my emotions. I wanted to care more because she couldn't seem to care at all.

I thought this book might be too 'chick-lit-y', I worried it might not be engaging. I was so wrong, I loved this book, I have recommended it to so many friends. The idea of a language of flowers is interesting to me, I've since read more about it, and that language weaves a thread through the novel that I think anyone would enjoy. I give this one a rousing 5 stars!