Review of “The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

This enchanting story which takes place in San Francisco focuses on both the foster-care system and the language of flowers inherited from the Victorian Age. It is told in alternating chapters that chronicle Victoria Jones’s life at age eighteen when she is released from her last institution, and Victoria as a child, having been abandoned by her mother at birth.

Victoria has lived in thirty-two homes by the time she is placed, at age ten, with Elizabeth, a woman living alone and running a grape vineyard. Victoria is defensive, angry and distrustful. She gets physically sick if people touch her, and shuns attachments. And in fact, she is afraid to love, afraid above all to be hurt yet again. So in a desperate and counterproductive attempt to protect herself, she tries to sabotage love when she finds it. If she can destroy the affection that is directed toward her, she will not be vulnerable to being destroyed once again herself.

Elizabeth is the first person who seems to understand what Victoria is doing, and who resists Victoria’s efforts to push her away. Elizabeth breaks through to Victoria by teaching her the language of flowers, and through this new language, they are able to build a relationship. But Elizabeth has problems of her own, and Victoria mistakes them for rejection of her. She acts out against Elizabeth in a violent way that haunts her for years, and which she thinks shows that she is “unforgivably flawed.”

When, years later, she encounters a boy who seems interested in her, she can’t accept it, and strikes out at him again and again.

It is only through her knowledge of the language of flowers, which she puts to use in a floral shop, that she is able to learn how to connect with people again. Like moss, she discovers, love can grow spontaneously, without any roots at all.

Evaluation: This is a wonderful book. I felt like I actually knew the main characters in this book, and could picture them, although they really weren’t even ever described. The information on the meaning of flowers is fascinating, and the author includes a glossary at the end of the book. She also includes information on the foster care system in the U.S. This book will warm your heart, even as it gives you an understanding of the heartbreaking dilemma of children whom nobody seems to want, and of the romantic and fascinating method of communicating through flowers. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.2/5

Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, 2011

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23 Responses to Review of “The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

  1. This sounds like such an awesome story. I know t will be one that I MUST get my hands on. High praise from your terrific review.

  2. Mystica says:

    Thank you for the wonderful review.

  3. Oh, I’m SO glad you liked this! I loved it to pieces. I thought it was really well done on both an historical/flower level and a personal/character development level.

  4. A book I’d love to read!

  5. Sandy says:

    I’m glad that it isn’t about a poor little girl who ultimately self-destructs, but that she finds peace within herself. I can tolerate all that angst if there is light at the end of the tunnel! This is why I can’t get anything done in my house! I’m blaming you!

  6. Barbara says:

    I’ve been seeing a lot of promotion for this book and wondered if it was worth reading. Thanks for the review so I can decide without the hype.

  7. zibilee says:

    Oh, so glad you liked this one! I have it up for review very soon, and have been a little curious about it. I remember reading some good reviews, but yours was comprehensive without giving anything away. It sounds like this is going to be a great read, and now I am excited about it!

  8. softdrink says:

    I’ve heard such great things about this book. But I work for a social services agency, so as soon as I hear foster care I want to run screaming in the opposite direction. It would be like reading about work. Ugh.

  9. Caroline says:

    You know, I had my reservations but I think you capture it very well. I was actually looking forward to read your review, knowing you had loved the book.
    I liked the symbolism of moss and how it works in the book too. I also really liked that she added a flower dictionary.
    I think I would love to see this made into a movie.

  10. Margot says:

    I’m intrigued by the whole idea of a language within flowers. To me, flowers have a positive message, so I’m curious about what else they have to say. Very interesting idea for a book.

  11. I sort of passed on this based on the cover — I thought it’d be more chick lit-y — so I’m glad to see great reviews like this one which clues me in w/o giving it all away. I’ve added this to my TBR!

  12. Dawn and Julie have both raved about this book to me and now with your recommendation, I wish I could ditch everything and read it right now. The foster care system needs more attention, so I’m glad to see it discusses that issue.

  13. Steph says:

    This does sound like a wonderful book. I am adding it to my list as we speak. 🙂

  14. Aarti says:

    I admit I am a bit flummoxed as to how the foster care system relates to the language of flowers, but it sounds like the author does a very good job of weaving the two together. I am glad there’s another book out about the foster system, too- so sad how kids can fall through the cracks and just be forgotten. I think Sherman Alexie’s book Flight is a good example of that, too, though a little too “life is perfect” at the end.

  15. Jenners says:

    This sounds interesting and different. Would I find it under gardening or YA? HAHA!

  16. Julie P. says:

    I had to wait until I was done writing my review before reading yours. I adored this book!

  17. Veens says:

    I think this would be a great read too. I am feeling sad already for Victoria and Elizabeth. Great review.

  18. Alyce says:

    I have been seeing a lot of good reviews for this one, but I just don’t know if it’s for me.

  19. I’m excited to read this book since seeing so many fantastic reviews about it. Love the overview you wrote and I’m already sad for Victoria.

  20. stacybuckeye says:

    I just read another review that made me think I might like this one. Now I’m convinced. The foster care aspect intrigues me.

  21. Rachel says:

    Great review – I loved this book too!

  22. Pingback: Sunday Caught My Interest – On Monday « Reflections from the Hinterland

  23. Amy says:

    I just noticed this review listed on your sidebar. I’m so happy you loved this book. It sounds like a very compelling read. I love the authors use of flowers as a way to connect with people…not quite as good as animals, but still, a good idea!

    I only recently discovered this book and what it’s about. I’m very excited that Vanessa Diffenbaugh wrote this book involving the foster care system and started the Camellia Network. When I worked on child abuse and neglect cases as a prosecutor and then with social services I realized there were big, big problems with foster care and hoped someone would do something to draw people attention to the problems with foster care.
    Thanks for a terrific post and review.

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