Agatha's Reviews > The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
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Mar 05, 2012

it was amazing
Read from March 05 to 06, 2012

Wow. My favorite book of the year, so far, hands down! Reprinting here the review by Paula McLain, who is the author of the book, The Paris Wife, which I also greatly enjoyed. I had no idea previously that McLain had this personal history too:

“Paula McLain is the New York Times best-selling author of The Paris Wife. She grew up in Fresno, California where, after being abandoned by both parents, she spent fourteen years in the foster care system. A graduate of the MFA program at The University of Michigan, she has taught literature and creative writing for many years, and currently lives with her children in Cleveland, Ohio.”

“I feel it's only fair to warn you, dear reader, that Vanessa Diffenbaugh's central character, Victoria Jones, is going to break your heart three ways from Sunday. She's also going to make you want to pick her up, shake her and scream, why can’t you let yourself be happy? But for Victoria, the answer is as complex as the question is simple. She's spent her childhood ricocheting through countless foster and group homes, and the experience has left her in pieces. Painfully isolated and deeply mistrustful, she cares only about flowers and their meanings. She herself is like a thistle, a wall of hard-earned thorns.

“When we first encounter Victoria, it's the day of her emancipation from foster care, her eighteenth birthday. "Emancipation" couldn't be a more ironic word for this moment. For Victoria, as for most foster care survivors—-myself included—-freedom really means free fall. She has nowhere to go, no resources, no one who cares about her. She ends up sleeping in a public park, tending a garden of pilfered blossoms, and living on her wits. It's only when a local florist sees Victoria's special way with flowers that she is given a means to survive. But survival is just the beginning. The more critical question is will Victoria let herself love and be loved?

“The storyline weaves skillfully between the heavy burden of Victoria's childhood—-her time with Elizabeth, the foster mother who taught her the language of flowers and also wounded her more deeply than Victoria can bear to remember—-and the gauntlet of her present relationship with Grant, a flower vendor who's irrevocably linked to the darkest secret of her past. At its core, The Language of Flowers is a meditation on redemption, and on how even the most profoundly damaged might learn to forgive and be forgiven. By opening up Victoria's very difficult inner world to us, Vanessa Diffenbaugh shows us a corner of experience hidden to most, and with an astonishing degree of insight and compassion. So hold on, and keep the tissue box nearby. This is a book you won’t soon forget. --Paula McLain.”

What I think I personally enjoyed the most in this book was the theme of attachment: what is attachment, what is the lack of attachment, the growth of attachment, attaching after loss, attachment and family-building through adoption, mother-daughter attachment, etc. The neatest thing to me was that “moss” was the flower that represents “maternal love” and moss, of course, grows without roots, and can grow just on “air.” As an adoptive mother myself, I know that love can grow without any prior biological roots or connection to your child at all. I am astounded that the Victorians would have selected this flower to represent maternal love; maybe they were wise before their time -- or maybe it is just a fluke-y mistake by those repressed and tightly controlled Victorians.

Author herself is roughly my age but already has been a foster mother to many, has adopted one (older child) out of the foster system, and is also a biological mother of two (younger children).

Recommended most highly. This book blew me away.

If you don’t have the personal connection to all the attachment and family-building and adoption “stuff,” will you still enjoy it? I think so; that is just what I personally brought to the table when reading it; a lot of the other readers and reviewers seem to have really enjoyed the “language of flowers” aspect of it, which was meaningful and nice to me as well. There are so many moving aspects to it; there are some parts b/w a mother and a baby which will, like Paula McLain said, “break your heart three ways from Sunday.”
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