I first heard about The Language of Flowers (2011) by Vanessa Diffenbaugh from a friend. Apparently it was a book that is becoming quite popular in book clubs. Having only a vague idea of what it was about, but not wanting to be left out, I checked it out from the library.
The story begins and revolves around the life of Victoria Jones, an 18-year-old foster child who had been abandoned at birth by her mother. Pushed around between countless abusive foster homes and then group homes, Victoria, now an “adult” and completely alone in the world, suddenly has to take care of herself. She quickly finds herself living in the streets of San Francisco.
This novel jumps between Victoria’s present-day struggles and Victoria as a nine-year-old girl at her last foster home. Victoria is brought by her caseworker to the home of Elizabeth, a single woman living on a vineyard. Elizabeth has the patience and understanding to eventually forge a relationship with Victoria, teaching her communication and connection through “the language of flowers”—an old Victorian way of communicating during courting. Nine-year-old Victoria is finally starting to trust and connect with Elizabeth, but the reader already knows that something went terribly wrong that pulled the two of them apart.
Not knowing what to expect when I picked it up, I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. I was immediately drawn into the story because I was instantly concerned by Victoria’s plight. Here was a teenager, with no support system, little education, no money, and no social skills trying to start out her life. I felt overwhelmed for her. In addition, the mystery of what had occurred in Victoria’s past kept me flipping open my kindle instead of turning on my television. I appreciate that Diffenbaugh was able to allude to the difficulties and abuses that Victoria had suffered without going into the grisly detail. I also appreciate that Diffenbaugh acknowledged that Victoria had real and deap-seated issues that could not simply be cured by one person being nice to her. Diffenbaugh showed an awareness of the problems foster children face and sympathy for Victoria that enriched this novel. (Apparently Diffenbaugh is a foster mother, so she has real world experiences to draw from). Although I’m not sure I buy the derailing of Victoria’s life with Elizabeth when it is finally revealed, and the latter half of the book did not grab me as forcefully as the first half, this one was definitely worth the read.