The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My enjoyment rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Hangover rating: 3
Source: Personal copy
Genre: Literary/general fiction
Objectionable material: mild sexual innuendo
Narrated by Victoria in flashbacks, this novel follows her life as she bounces from one foster situation to the next until she "ages out" from foster care at 18. Her most significant relationship is with Elizabeth, a gardener who grew up on a Northern California vineyard and is now estranged from her family. Elizabeth introduces her to the Victorian-era symbolism of flowers and their secret meanings, and Victoria embraces it as a way to express difficult emotions to the adults in her life. She describes the situations that led her to become an often abrasive young adult, the self-sabotage that left her homeless in a San Francisco park, and the twists of fate that lead to her work with a high-end city florist and her guarded relationship with a Napa Valley farmer who understands her secret language like no one else. Book Page
This was a rich novel full of beautiful prose -- both functional and floral. The author, who is a foster parent as well, seemed to nail the plight of an emancipated foster child and their difficulties assimilating themselves into society. Victoria's insecurity, fear, hunger and homelessness was heartbreaking. I loved how the author turned one of Victoria's few "talents" (her knowledge of the meaning of flowers) into her societal salvation. What a learning experience.
However, I felt Victoria, the character, was unevenly written -- as a 18 year old foster-releasee, she seemed much OLDER on the written page. Also, the latter half of the novel -- once it gravitated towards Victoria's personal life -- was awkward and overly complicated...and I would say more, but it would reveal too much.
That being said -- overall I enjoyed this novel and would read future works by Ms. Diffenbaugh.