The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Published: 2011 by Ballantine Books
The Language of Flowers was my book club’s selection for July, but unfortunately I was not able to attend the discussion. I wish I had, because this is an ideal book for groups.
The story is about Victoria Jones, who on her 18th birthday is emancipated from the foster care system in which she has spent her entire life. She is brought to a transition home where she is given a few months to get settled and find a job, but the only thing she manages to do is create a greenhouse out of her room by bringing in different plants she’s taken from her walks around San Francisco. In one of her foster homes, Victoria was taught by her foster mother, Elizabeth, that every plant has a meaning; and it seems that flowers and plants are the only things she is passionate about. Elizabeth’s home was the only place Victoria ever felt loved, yet she was forced to leave it, but why?
Victoria is of course evicted once her grace period is up, and, now homeless, she wanders the streets not clear of her future; until she passes by a flower shop called Bloom. The shop’s owner, Renata, reluctantly offers her a job, at first on an as-needed basis only; but when Victoria’s arrangements based on her knowledge are regularly requested, she is hired as a full-time employee. At the wholesale flower market they attend to pick up the day’s supplies, Victoria encounters a mysterious seller, a man who seems to speak the same “language” as she. And once she realizes who he is, her past very well could meet up with her future.
And that’s all I’ll say about the plot so I don’t reveal any spoilers.
I was only about 25 pages into the book when I was ready to put it aside. Victoria is not a likeable character at all. I understand that her upbringing was awful and she has the right to be mad at the world, but to not have any emotions toward anyone else seemed just cold. But since it was for book club, and since it is my strong belief that book club discussions are more interesting when someone doesn’t like the book, I continued on.
And I ended up not hating the book, though I can’t say I loved it. Victoria was still unlikeable to me at the end, but she became more human as the novel progressed, meaning she displayed a greater range of emotions. Again, I understand her reluctance to trust anyone, but when you have so many people willing to help you out, playing the martyr just to prove your independence seems wrong. Similarly, I think it was the introduction of many interesting supporting characters that made the story more readable for me.
It was also fascinating to read about how flowers and plants have been used to send messages. I think I’ve heard about different colored roses having differing meanings, but I never knew it went beyond that. It makes me wonder what kind I’ve messages I’ve sent to people to whom I’ve given flowers …..