Gail's Reviews > The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
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Sep 16, 11

Read from September 09 to 14, 2011

I've come across a few articles/books as of late about the role reading can play in making a person more empathic. I had those studies in mind as I read Vanessa Diffenbaugh's "The Language of Flowers." Chiefly because, without empathy, I would have failed to fully appreciate its narrator, Victoria Jones.

A foster kid, Jones is a tough girl who blew her chance at being adopted and so, for 18 years, has bounced from group home to group home with the worst of attitudes. The book follows her life upon being emancipated (all the while weaving in her back story and her days living with Elizabeth, the closest foster parent she's ever had to a real mother). She finds a job with a local florist and, soon enough, her gift of deciphering the Victorian message of flowers becomes her ticket to a new life.

"Language" was a novel that captivated me for a couple reasons. I'd never heard about the Victorian language of flowers (that, for instance, asters mean patience and yellow roses infidelity) and so, as a plot construct, this alone kept me reading. But what also grabbed me was how personal this novel was to its author. Diffenbaugh herself is a foster mother. She is passionate about the importance of foster children landing on their feet upon gaining their independence. (So much so she's created a non-profit, the Camellia Network (camellia meaning "my destiny is in your hands"), to raise money for its cause.)

What was most difficult about Diffenbaugh's book was exercising that empathy muscle while reading it. Victoria makes so many decisions—many of them so rash and so hurtful—that those of us who have grown up sheltered and loved could never understand her reasoning behind them. And so it takes the reminder of "You don't know what it's like to be in her shoes" to forgive her those actions (and the hurt she inflicts) over the course of "Language"'s 300-plus pages.

Overall, an engrossing read (especially for a debut novel); likely to remain one of my favorites of the year.

Knowing Hollywood (reportedly) has come calling for this film, I couldn't help envisioning a cast I'd love to see take this one on:
Victoria: Evan Rachel Wood (the actress has to be younger and have that ability to play tough and vulnerable at the same time--I think she'd nail it)
Elizabeth: Naomi Watts and Catherine: Anne Heche (I kept picturing these sisters as blonde--I think both these actresses would be amazing in either of these roles)
Grant: Andrew Garfield (because I'd LOVE to see what he'd do with the subtleties of the character...plus, I just love him as an actor and want to see him in everything-haha)

And finally, a passage I loved--so much so I stopped to read it twice (pg. 279):

"When you work with flowers, everything about you changes. The set of your jaw loosens. Your eyes glaze with focus. Your fingers manipulate the flowers with a gentle respect that makes it impossible to believe you are capable of violence...."
I knew the girl of whom she was speaking. It was the same one I'd glimpsed in the dressing room mirror with Elizabeth, after nearly a year in her home. Perhaps that girl had survived somewhere within me after all, preserved like a dried flower, fragile and sweet.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jo Gail, I love your review and I agree that reading can make someone more empathetic!


Stephanie Beautiful review, thank you! I really loved this book and for many of the reasons you did!


message 3: by Teresa (new)

Teresa I love your reviews, Gail! Thanks for taking the time (once again) to help me choose my next good read!


Gail Teresa wrote: "I love your reviews, Gail! Thanks for taking the time (once again) to help me choose my next good read!"

So glad to hear it Teresa! My book club just picked this book for our next read and though I read it last year, I told them we must have at it! Such a beautiful book!


Jennifer Perfectly said! I can totally see all of your actress/actor choices bringing these characters to life. Can't wait to see how this translates to the screen.


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