The Language of Flowers: A Novel
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Ballentine Books, 2011
List price: $25.00
Being a gardener and seeing everything through a gardener’s eyes, it was the title that first drew my attention to The Language of Flowers. But being fiction, I knew that while flowers might be a major player, they just as easily might not be. They are.
Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s first book tackles a subject that few of us are really familiar with – the life of foster children – and joins it to the Victorian custom of using flowers to convey thoughts and feelings. As we hear about Victoria’s life in a volley of chapters that tell of her past and then her present, we come to want her to succeed, despite her struggles with herself to do so. She has those in her life that want her to have a good life, too, if she can only come to believe in their sincerity – not an easy task for a child who has grown up in a series of foster and group homes.
In case you’re wondering, there’s romance here, but this is no romance novel. It is inspiring and at the same time, enlightening. We do learn about the language of flowers and a bit about viticulture, but we learn a great deal more about the human spirit.
I read The Language of Flowers in two days and not because I didn’t have anything else to do. It captured my interest in the first few pages and never let go until I reached the end. Very few books do both for me. As I made my way through each chapter, I tried to figure out how it all would work together to come to a satisfying conclusion. I never quite figured it out until I read it and that’s a good thing.
It’s hard for me to believe that this is a first novel. Diffenbaugh has made herself a tough act to follow, but I hope she does.
To write The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh found inspiration in her own experience as a foster mother. After studying creative writing and education at Stanford University, Vanessa taught art and writing to youth in low-income communities. She and her husband, PK, have three children and live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is her first novel.
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