“The Language of Flowers”, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

“The Language of Flowers” is a novel about learning how to forgive yourself and accept love from others. Told from the perspective of an 18-year-old product of the foster care system, it runs the reader through a gauntlet of emotions, including frustration, sympathy and hope.

As the book begins, Victoria is aging out of the foster care system, which means she has to figure out how to support herself now. However, the years she spent in the system have damaged her – she’s self-destructive, bitter and slightly feral. In other words, not very employable. One skill she does have is understanding the language of flowers, a concept from Victorian times that assigns a unique meaning to different types of flowers. Through this, she is able to create unique flower arrangements, which also lands her a job with a sympathetic florist.

The rest of the book follows Victoria’s journey to survive and thrive as a young adult, overcome years of rejection by foster parents and finally allow herself to love and be loved. This journey includes finding romantic love, becoming a mother, reconciling with a former foster mother and coming into her own as a successful businesswoman. Along the way, she frequently stumbles and even backtracks, but by the end she finally seems to be on a healthy path to healing.

I have mixed emotions about this book. Victoria is such a frustrating and unlikeable character at the beginning of the book that I almost gave up on reading it. But something drew me in and made me keep reading. I’m glad I stuck with it because it ultimately had a good message about healing and self acceptance. And I also came to understand there was a reason the author made Victoria so hard to like – it made the love she received from some of the other characters even more extraordinary. These other characters were able to look past Victoria’s many flaws and love her anyway. They may have been the real heroes of this story.

Thanks to Patricia for recommending this book!

“The Language of Flowers” has been out for a few years, so I’m assuming several of my blog followers have read it. What did you think? Please leave your comments below.

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9 thoughts on ““The Language of Flowers”, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

  1. This is a really helpful review – I appreciate your suggesting to stick with the story and the unpleasantness in the beginning. I’m going to give it a go!

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  2. I did read this book several years ago. Like you I found Victoria hard to like in the beginning but I too stuck with finishing the book. I loved all the flower names and descriptions and how Victoria matched them to each order she filled. This was a well rotten book as it really portrayed a young person who had many strikes against her but was able to come into her own.

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  3. I read this book last year when I was still working at CASA. I found it very realistic in its depiction of kids living in foster care and the difficulties of aging out.

    I think you’re right – Victoria is such an unlikable character in the beginning of the book, it’s hard to keep reading. But it’s very rewarding for those who don’t quit. I think the author may have intended that as a metaphor for what life is really like with these kids. It is very hard to build a relationship with them, because they are so damaged by the trauma they suffered, and even well-intentioned people are inclined to give up. But for those that persist, there is great reward. I totally agree that those who grow to love Victoria are the real heroes – just like the good foster and adoptive parents who save these kids from the system and the other caring adults who help those who have aged out. And the heroic CASA Volunteers of course! šŸ™‚

    I also loved learning more about the flowers. It was a good reminder of how nature can also help heal.

    Thanks for reminding me about this book and its important message of persistence!

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  4. I read this novel shortly after reading a story in the paper about a special program at our local university helping the foster kids who age out in all of San Diego County. I was enlightened to the struggles of these young adults to succeed in life once they reach age eighteen.

    Victoria was a tough character to like, but that’s how thick the shell around her had become and I think feral was a very appropriate description. I wasn’t aware of the Victorian language of flowers and I thought I would analyze every bouquet at every occasion after reading this book. That hasn’t happened, but I appreciate anyone having a special expertise, so Victoria had my respect for that.

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  5. After my mother-in-law’s book club read this, she highly recommended it & my book club also read it. I love, love, love flowers & found the significance of various types of flowers particularly interesting. I’ve recommended this book to many others &, without exception, everyone became a fan.

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  6. One of my favorite books and one that I’ve recommended many times. She does grow on you, as a character, and I attributed that to her difficult life circumstances. All the details about the flowers were so interesting, but, sadly, has not inspired my gardening efforts any! One thing I did learn about the author after reading the book was that she set up a foundation for kids aging out of the foster care system, which is a much needed resource. Her second book is We Never Asked for Wings, and I thought it was also very well done.

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    • Thanks for commenting, Nancy. Aging out of the system and suddenly being on your own must be terrifying for an 18-year-old. I’m glad to hear the author is trying to help some of these kids out.

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  7. I just read another book that was exceptional. The Paris Architect by C Belfoure. It is during the WW2 during the occupation of France. A Paris architect is asked to design hiding places for Jews. He is not pro jew, but not pro natzi either. He just needs the money.

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  8. Another one of my favorites! Prickly doesn’t begin to describe poor Victoria. Even when I didn’t like her much, I was rooting for her to make it though. Those who loved her and stuck by her were wonderful. I almost couldn’t take it when Victoria was such an awful mother. I thought surely she wouldn’t hurt or mess up her own kid, but of course motherly love would not come easily to a child who was a product of the foster system. What a sad statement. Maybe orphanages were a better alternative to foster care. I am a gardener but did not know about the language of flowers so found this part of the book fascinating. I even found other books about that aspect of the story. How interesting that it was a Victorian custom and the main character was Victoria.

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