Saturday 6 August 2011

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness

I love fresh flowers.  Even when money is extra tight, I try to ensure that I have some fresh flowers in the house, they cheer me up - they brighten up the room and there is nothing better than the smell of things such as freesia and stocks to make me feel better.  

I was delighted when Chloe from Macmillan sent me a copy of Vanessa Diffenbaugh's novel The Language of Flowers - it will be published here in the UK on 18 August 2011.

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.
Vanessa Diffenbaugh
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.
Macmillan Publishers have set up a wonderful website for the book, you can find it here, you can watch the trailer for the book and also send a beautiful virtual bouquet of flowers to your friends and loved ones.  Choose the flowers according to their meaning and add your own message.

Again, a huge thank you to Chloe from Macmillan who sent me a copy to review.


  1. Sounds wonderful Anne. A lovely review. I will add this one to my wishlist. Especially as you think it might be in your top 5!

  2. Thanks for this review Anne, I really like the sound of this and have added it to My Wishlist.

  3. I'm so glad that you enjoyed this one. I have it on my TBR pile and am anxious to get to it.

  4. I read this for a book club and was totally drawn in to the main character - her strength but mostly her fears and vulnerability that come from the lack of having a safe harbor called 'home'. I just couldn't put the book down and am looking forward to more from Ms. Diffenbaugh. Thank you for showing me another side to humanity and the importance of unconditional familial love.