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A simply gorgeous read that was riveting & engaging from the very beginning. It had me pondering the significance of what it means to be a mother or a daughter. Stayed with me for days & captured my heart forever. By far one of the best books I've read in years....
Language of Flowers
Although I would recommend this book as very interesting reading, I found it a little lacking. In dealing with Victoria's life in the "system" was not very revealing. Too much time in the contradictory meanings of the flowers. The back and forth timing serves to make me confused about who is talking and about what.
What a beautiful book, both the story itself and the actual book. The cover is a stunning design, and different parts of the story have front pages with gorgeous calligraphy - it really is beautifully designed and presented.
The subject of the novel fascinated me, the language of flowers and each flower's individual meaning - something that I knew nothing about, although I believe that our latest member of the Royal Family - Kate Middleton is very interested in the subject.
I was also drawn by the fact that the lead character of the story is a foster child - I've worked for charities now for many years and for four years I ran a drop in project for young people that were 'leaving care'. Aged between 17 and 21, these were kids that had been in the system for all of their lives and were making that difficult transition from being 'looked after' to living in the wide world by themselves. I'd also run a project for young parents who had been in the care system, so had many memories of these children and their unique problems.
Victoria is 18 years old and has spent her life being moved from one foster carer to another and between different group homes before finally leaving the system as the book opens. During her time in the system she has had no consistency, except for her Social Worker Meredith - a woman who has only displayed frustration and anger towards her.
The reader is made aware that Victoria did once have the chance to make a new life with a lady called Elizabeth and this back story is interwoven with Victoria's present day situation. It is clear that Victoria and Elizabeth loved each other, but that they have been estranged for the last 8 years - as the story unfolds, we learn more and more about their relationship, but it is not until the end of the novel that we find out the whole truth.
This really is a wonderful read. It is beautifully written and it is clear that Diffenbaugh has spent a lot of time researching the language of flowers. Victoria is homeless when she meets Renata, the owner of Bloom, a florist shop.
Victoria has always loved flowers and their meaning, something that Elizabeth taught her during their time together. Renata recognises her talents and gives her a chance in the shop. It is not long before Victoria's bouquets become famous in the neighbourhood and at last she has found something that she is good at.
There is a wariness about Victoria - she finds it difficult to love and to be loved. She trusts no one and is afraid that she will be hurt and that she will hurt anyone who gets close to her. One day at the flower market she meets Grant, Elizabeth's nephew. Grant knows more about Victoria's history than anyone else and although this scares her, it also draws her to him.
I can't go into more detail or I would spoil the book for those who have not yet read it.
The Language of Flowers is a joy to read. I loved every page of it. Victoria is a flawed but vulnerable heroine - a girl who is desperate for affection, but also terrified of rejection. It is a story of relationships and love, especially between mothers and daughters, and the added intrigue of the meaning of flowers only adds another dimension to the novel.
An excellent first novel that I would highly recommend.
I like how the structure of this novel--switching between the past and the present--kept me engaged all through the read, as well as the characters, main and secondary, and the themes of love and loss, mothers and daughters. There is much here for book club discussions.
Beyond the color
I am looking forward to Vanessa Diffenbaugh's next work.
Excellent insight into growing up in a foster home, having a child alone at an early age, symbolism, mother love, devotion, independence and forgiveness. I will look beyond the color when I give flowers in the future! I loved this book!
Flowers Have A Beautiful Language
I didn't know flowers had so much to say. Certainly, "I love You" but other emotions like jealousy, hate, sorrow, passion, mistrust, never entered my mind. I heard author, Vanessa Dissenbauch, talking about her debut novel The Language of Flowers on the August 27th NPR Weekend Edition. Her decision to use flowers to tell us the story of Victoria, an abandoned child, caught up in a foster care system, shuffled from family to family, but deemed not adoptable, seemed unique. I was lucky to be the first to grab this book when it hit our shelves.
As the story opens, Victoria is finally graduating out of the state care system but into what. Here's an eighteen year old so profoundly wounded by years of feelings of unworthiness, that it seems doubtful she can succeed. She takes up residence in a half way house and is told to get a job. Get a job? With what skills. In alternate chapters, Victoria reveals bits and pieces of the one year she lived with Elisabeth, the only person who had ever shown her any real love. Living with Elisabeth on her vineyard in the wine country of San Francisco, Victoria learns the meanings of flowers and for the first time feels hope. That is until the day Elisabeth is to adopt Victoria. Something goes horribly wrong and Victoria finds herself alone once again. In the present Victoria builds on the language Elisabeth has taught her, that of flowers, and takes a job with a florist.
At one point the author needed to get Victoria from point A to B and I did not like the choices either made. Did this spoil the whole for me? Not really. It will give me something to debate with friends who choose to read the book. I have to remind myself that it is not my book and the author can do what she sees fit to tell the tale.
It's evident that Diffenbaugh is passionate about her subjects, both flowers and the foster care system. I loved how Diffenbaugh weaved the meaning of flowers throughout. I found it very sensual, like the pleasure I got from reading Chocolat (Harris) or Like Water for Chocolate (Esquivel) with its use of cacao as a means to stimulate the senses. I do not have a floral garden but do appreciate the beauty of those created by others. I can appreciate the skills of a florist to create a bridal bouquet or floral arrangement. This story will bring new appreciation to my perception of the flowers that surround me.
Victoria's Dictionary of flowers in included at the end of the book. This in itself is interesting, In an author note Diffenbaugh states that she owned only one flower dictionary, The Floral Offering: A Token of Affection and Esteem; Comprising Language and Poetry of Flowers, written in 1851 by Henrietta Dumont. I'd love to get my hands on this. I never knew such a thing existed.
Vanessa Diffenbaugh is launching the Camellia (meaning my destiny) Network in support of youth making transitions from foster care to independence. www.camellianetwork.org
Loved this book. The characters are so alive with energy that permeates every page. You root for the main character as she tries to negotiate "growing up" after spending her life in the foster care system. She is a survivor in every sense of the word.
Gigi K. (Lufkin,, TX)
If you know what you want to say but don't know how to say it, use flowers. This book kept me interested in all the characters. Loved how the main character always landed on her feet. I'm tempted to utilized flowers more to let others know how I care for them. Do read this wonderful book. Also, the best description of a woman in labor that I have ever read.