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The Language of Flowers: A Novel Kindle Edition
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 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 with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger 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.
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Praise for The Language of Flowers
"Instantly enchanting . . . [Diffenbaugh] is the best new writer of the year."—Elle
“I would like to hand Vanessa Diffenbaugh a bouquet of bouvardia (enthusiasm), gladiolus (you pierce my heart) and lisianthus (appreciation). In this original and brilliant first novel, Diffenbaugh has united her fascination with the language of flowers—a long-forgotten and mysterious way of communication—with her firsthand knowledge of the travails of the foster-care system. . . . This novel is both enchanting and cruel, full of beauty and anger. Diffenbaugh is a talented writer and a mesmerizing storyteller. She includes a flower dictionary in case we want to use the language ourselves. And there is one more sprig I should add to her bouquet: a single pink carnation (I will never forget you).”—Washington Post
"A fascinating debut . . . Diffenbaugh clearly knows both the human heart and her plants, and she keeps us rooting for the damaged Victoria."—O Magazine
"Diffenbaugh effortlessly spins this enchanting tale, making even her prickly protagonist impossible not to love."—Entertainment Weekly
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.
Amazon Exclusive: Paula McLain Reviews The Language of Flowers
Paula McLain is the New York Times best-selling author of The Paris Wife. She grew up in Fresno, California where, after being abandoned by both parents, she spent fourteen years in the foster care system. A graduate of the MFA program at The University of Michigan, she has taught literature and creative writing for many years, and currently lives with her children in Cleveland, Ohio.
I feel it's only fair to warn you, dear reader, that Vanessa Diffenbaugh's central character, Victoria Jones, is going to break your heart three ways from Sunday. She's also going to make you want to pick her up, shake her and scream, why can’t you let yourself be happy? But for Victoria, the answer is as complex as the question is simple. She's spent her childhood ricocheting through countless foster and group homes, and the experience has left her in pieces. Painfully isolated and deeply mistrustful, she cares only about flowers and their meanings. She herself is like a thistle, a wall of hard-earned thorns.
When we first encounter Victoria, it's the day of her emancipation from foster care, her eighteenth birthday. "Emancipation" couldn't be a more ironic word for this moment. For Victoria, as for most foster care survivors—-myself included—-freedom really means free fall. She has nowhere to go, no resources, no one who cares about her. She ends up sleeping in a public park, tending a garden of pilfered blossoms, and living on her wits. It's only when a local florist sees Victoria's special way with flowers that she is given a means to survive. But survival is just the beginning. The more critical question is will Victoria let herself love and be loved?
The storyline weaves skillfully between the heavy burden of Victoria's childhood—-her time with Elizabeth, the foster mother who taught her the language of flowers and also wounded her more deeply than Victoria can bear to remember—-and the gauntlet of her present relationship with Grant, a flower vendor who's irrevocably linked to the darkest secret of her past. At its core, The Language of Flowers is a meditation on redemption, and on how even the most profoundly damaged might learn to forgive and be forgiven. By opening up Victoria's very difficult inner world to us, Vanessa Diffenbaugh shows us a corner of experience hidden to most, and with an astonishing degree of insight and compassion. So hold on, and keep the tissue box nearby. This is a book you won’t soon forget. --Paula McLain
Author Q and A with Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Q: What is the language of flowers?
A: The Victorian language of flowers began with the publication of Le Language des Fleurs, written by Charlotte de Latour and printed in Paris in 1819. To create the book--which was a list of flowers and their meanings--de Latour gathered references to flower symbolism throughout poetry, ancient mythology and even medicine. The book spawned the science known as floriography, and between 1830 and 1880, hundreds of similar floral dictionaries were printed in Europe and America.
In The Language of Flowers, Victoria learns about this language as a young girl from her prospective adoptive mother Elizabeth. Elizabeth tells her that years ago, people communicated through flowers; and if a man gave a young lady a bouquet of flowers, she would race home and try to decode it like a secret message. So he would have to choose his flowers carefully.
Q: Where did you come up with the idea to have Victoria express herself through flowers?
A: I’ve always loved the language of flowers. I discovered Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers in a used bookstore when I was 16, and couldn’t believe it was such a well-kept secret. How could something so beautiful and romantic be virtually unknown? When I started thinking about the book I wanted to write, Victoria and the language of flowers came to me simultaneously. I liked the complication of a young woman who has trouble connecting with others communicating through a forgotten language that almost no one understands.
Q: Why does Victoria decide to create her own flower dictionary, and what role does it come to play in the novel?
A: In many ways, Victoria exists entirely on the periphery of society. So much is out of the scope of her understanding--how to get a job, how to make a friend, even how to have a conversation. But in the world of flowers, with their predictable growing habits and "non-negotiable" meanings, Victoria feels safe, comfortable, even at home. All this changes when she learns that there is more than one definition for the yellow rose--and then, through research, realizes there is more than one definition for almost every flower. She feels her grasp on the one aspect of life she believed to be solid dissolving away beneath her. In an effort to "re-order" the universe, Victoria begins to photograph and create her own dictionary, determined to never have a flower-inspired miscommunication. She decides to share that information with others--a decision that brings with it the possibility of love, connection, career, and community.
I understand Victoria’s impulse completely, and I included a dictionary in the back of the book for the same reason. If readers are inspired to send messages through flowers, I wanted there to be a complete, concise, relevant and consistent list of meanings for modern communication.
Q: How does The Language of Flowers challenge and reconfigure our concepts of family and motherhood?
A: One of my favorite books is Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. In it, Rilke writes: "It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation."
To love is difficult. To be a mother is difficult. To be a mother, alone, with few financial resources and no emotional support, is so difficult as to be nearly impossible. Yet society expects us to be able to do it, and as mothers, we expect ourselves to be able to do it as well. Our standards for motherhood are so high that many of us harbor intense, secret guilt for every harsh word we speak to our children; every negative thought that enters our minds. The pressure is so powerful that many of us never speak aloud about our challenges--especially emotional ones--because to do so would be to risk being viewed as a failure or, worse, a danger to the very children we love more than anything in the world.
With Victoria and Elizabeth, I hope to allow the reader a window inside the minds of mothers who are trying to do what is best for their children but who lack the support, resources, and/or self-confidence to succeed. The results are heartbreaking for so many mothers who find themselves unable to raise their children. It is my belief that we could prevent much child abuse and neglect if we as a society recognized the intense challenge of motherhood and offered more support for mothers who want desperately to love and care for their children.
Q: The Language of Flowers sheds light on the foster care system in our country, something with which many of us are not intimately acquainted. Did you always know you wanted to write a story about a foster child?
A: I’ve always had a passion for working with young people. As my work began to focus on youth in foster care--and I eventually became a foster parent myself--I became aware of the incredible injustice of the foster care system in our country: children moving from home to home, being separated from siblings, and then being released into the world on their eighteenth birthday with little support or services. Moreover, I realized that this injustice was happening virtually unnoticed. The same sensationalized stories appear in the media over and over again: violent kids, greedy foster parents, the occasional horrific child death or romanticized adoption--but the true story of life inside the system is one that is much more complex and emotional--and it is a story that is rarely told. Foster children and foster parents, like children and adults everywhere, are trying to love and be loved, and to do the best they can with the emotional and physical resources they have. Victoria is a character that people can connect with on an emotional level--at her best and at her worst--which I hope gives readers a deeper understanding of the realities of foster care.
Q: Victoria is such a complex and memorable character. She has so much to contribute to the world, but has so much trouble with love and forgiveness, particularly toward herself. Is she based on someone you know or have known in real life?
A: People often ask me if I drew inspiration for the character of Victoria from our foster son Tre’von, but Victoria is about as different from Tre’von as two people could ever be. Tre’von’s strength is his openness--he has a quick smile, a big heart, and a social grace that puts everyone around him at ease. At fourteen, running away from home barefoot on a cold January night, he had the wisdom and sense of self-preservation to knock on the door of the nearest fire station. When he was placed in foster care, he immediately began to reach out to his teachers and his principal, creating around himself a protective community of love and support.
Victoria is clearly different. She is angry and afraid, yet desperately hopeful; qualities I saw in many of the young people I worked with throughout the years. Though Victoria is entirely fictional, I did draw inspiration in bits and pieces from foster children I have known. One young woman in particular, who my husband and I mentored many years ago, was fiery and focused and distrusting and unpredictable in a manner similar to Victoria. Her history was intense: a number on her birth certificate where a name should have been; more foster homes than she could count. Still, she was resilient, beautiful, smart, and funny. We loved her completely, and she did her best to sabotage it, over and over again. To this day my husband and I regret that we couldn’t find a way to connect with her and become the stable parents she deserved.
Q: The notion of second chances plays a major role in The Language of Flowers for many of the characters. Does this in any way relate to your personal advocacy work with emancipating foster youth?
A: As my four-year old daughter says to me on a regular basis: "Mommy, you aren’t perfect." We all make mistakes, and we all need second chances. For youth in foster care, these mistakes are often purposeful--if not consciously so; a way to test the strength of a bond and establish trust in a new parent. A friend of mine called recently, after a year of mentoring a sixteen year-old boy, completely distraught. The young man had lied to him, and it was a major lie, one that put him in danger. My friend, in his anger, said things he regretted. My response was this: good. Your response might not have been perfect, but it was real and your concern was clear. As long as he was still committed to the young man (which he was), it didn’t so much matter what my friend had said or done; what mattered was what he did next. It mattered that he showed his mentee, through words and actions, that he still loved him, and that the young man’s mistake couldn’t change that.
Q: The Language of Flowers is one of those stories that will stay with its readers for a very long time. What lasting impression do you wish the book to leave them?
I believe that people are spurred into action when they both see the injustice of a situation and the possibility for change. With The Language of Flowers I tried to write a book that was honest and true, but hopeful enough to inspire people to act. Each year, nearly 20,000 young people emancipate from the foster care system, many of them with nowhere to go and no one to go to for support. I am launching a non-profit with the goal to connect every emancipating foster child to a community--a book club, a women’s club, a church group--to support them through the transition to adulthood and beyond. It is my hope that readers everywhere will read my book and become inspired to partner with emancipating young people in their own communities.
Q: If you were to represent yourself with a bouquet, which flowers would you choose and why?
A: Helioptrope (devoted affection), Black-Eyed Susan (justice), Hawthorn (hope), Liatris (I will try again), Lisianthus (appreciation), and Moss (maternal love). These flowers represent how I am--devoted, affectionate, maternal, and grateful--and also how I want to be--hopeful, determined, and constantly working for justice. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
“[An] original and brilliant first novel . . . a mesmerizing storyteller . . . I would like to hand Vanessa Diffenbaugh a bouquet of bouvardia (enthusiasm), gladiolus (you pierce my heart) and lisianthus (appreciation). . . . And there is one more sprig I should add to her bouquet: a single pink carnation (I will never forget you).”—Brigitte Weeks, The Washington Post
“A captivating novel in which a single sprig of rosemary speaks louder than words . . . The Language of Flowers deftly weaves the sweetness of newfound love with the heartache of past mistakes. . . . [It] will certainly change how you choose your next bouquet.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Fascinating . . . Diffenbaugh clearly knows both the human heart and her plants, and she keeps us rooting for the damaged Victoria.”—O: The Oprah Magazine (book of the week)
“Diffenbaugh effortlessly spins this enchanting tale, making even her prickly protagonist impossible not to love.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Compelling . . . immensely engaging . . . unabashedly romantic . . . an emotional arc of almost unbearable poignance.”—The Boston Globe
- ASIN : B004J4WLB4
- Publisher : Ballantine Books (August 23, 2011)
- Publication date : August 23, 2011
- Language : English
- File size : 2494 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 338 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #79,965 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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My memory, created during the first reading, holds story-holes. I created ugly potholes by not knowing which detail to understand, now or appreciate later --- during the first reading. And, holes need filling.
Every detail, each symbol, each sub-theme, page by page means more to me now, almost as if I were beginning to learn a new language. The second reading shows and validates details and sub-themes missed the first time. “It feels as if I’m reading a different book,” I say to myself. And I anticipate each additional reading will thicken understanding of what the story shares.
I love this story, as painful as it is at times..
During the first reading, I keep reading one more page, then one more chapter. Then I read another page, another chapter, on and on. To stop and wet my dry mouth and throat seems a time-waster. Each chapter introduces a surprise. Each chapter's last sentence keeps me anticipating the unexpected that Diffenbaugh will share next. While most of Victoria’s jaw-droppers displease me or make me feel uncomfortable, they keep fascinating and riveting my focus, as I read and turn page ... after page ... after page--- not able to stop.
Two questions birth themselves and stay with me, as I move through this tale:
• How real is this story? It feels like a dream, a bad one --- no, perhaps a nightmare, for all characters.
• Why is the book called “The Language of Flowers?” The title feels light-hearted, maybe literary, even botanical --- almost, even artificial. Yet, I know it’s not.
The second reading, I keep working to flesh-out a comfortable answer to the story’s purpose. Vanessa presents Victoria's story as a real-world experience --- yet it doesn’t feel believably so. Wounds and damages just don’t heal as quickly as the story's words and rhythms suggest, in real-life.
I ask: Might this story’s content be identified as a blend or a collage of an adult contemporary fairy tale, a fantasy, a story of secular-mysticism, a fictional memoir, a surrealistic metaphor, an unfinished psychological case-study draft?
Perchance it’s imaginary.
I keep searching the story’s content. “Is it phantasmagoria-like?" I ask myself. "Does the text hide a less obvious more meaningful or realistic solution?"
Coincidently, I watched Offenbach’s fabulous opera “Les Contes de’ Hoffmann,” between my first and second readings. With tears in my eyes, I recognize that in the epilogue, sung by the muse (Kate Lindsey) and The Metropolitan Opera Chorus*, I hear Offenbach’s music, and the English subtitles answer the two questions which developed during my first read.
The opera’s ending words cause me to feel that Diffenbaugh’s muse might well have been like the one portrayed by Offenbach --- if not the same.
I share some words from Hoffman's opera for your consideration:
"Let the ashes of your heart rekindle your genius.
“Smile upon your sorrows with serenity.
“Your muse will comfort you.
“Your suffering will be blessed.
“One grows through love...and grows more through tears.
“Let the ashes of your heart...rekindle your genius.
“Smile upon your sorrows with serenity.
“Your muse will comfort you.
“Your suffering will be blessed.
“Love lends man greatness.
“Tears make him greater still. "
“The Language of Flowers” is about much, much more than simply Victoria's (Diffenbaugh's) flowers' symbolic and mystical meanings. May you grow from the pain and suffering you are likely to feel, about Victoria and memories of your life-experiences, while you read this remarkable book. What will your favored flowers communicate to you? What will you be trying to communicate with the someone to whom you send your selected flowers?
Victoria, Grant, and Elizabeth, and maybe you and me, grow and develop as we learn from life-experiences. And that we live individually and personally.
Let your muse speak insights to you.
As my reading-muse whispers insights from Diffenbaugh’s text, “The Language of Flowers” becomes increasingly valuable to me.
Some reviewers give 5-stars when a book introduces them to something that feels as if it's giving them an insight that may change their life. "The Language of Flowers" might be one that carries life-modifying and enriching insights. Insights revealed while reading a book that is shared surreptitiously, simultaneously, with another work that peels similar scales from our eyes, unexpectedly --- even when 180-years separate one text and the other. As they did in this review's example.
I gave the author’s book 4-stars when I finished the first read. After the second, I changed to 5-stars. Is there a rating higher than 5-stars, for me to use after I reread this wonderfully and beautifully written tale a third, fourth, and fifth time?
Yes, there is --- even though there is no place to validate higher rankings with a checkmark.
Instead, we may need to find a reading-muse to whisper Diffenbaugh’s secrets to us. And then be content with what we hear.
*(December 19, 2009 performance)
Games: This book made for excellent games. The language of the flowers, of course, made for fun discussion and challenges. We played a game based on flower trivia as it related to the fiction. We matched photos of flowers to their names. And we got to know each other by each choosing a "bouquet" based on our personalities, and then guessed whose bouquet matched to whom. The game prizes were small potted plants, with the meaning of the flowers attached. Everyone rated this book highly on how easy it was to enjoy activities inspired from it.The content of the book is both educational and historical. In that regard, it was rated 5 stars.
The Content: Please beware there may be minor spoilers in this review. This book is a first person perspective fiction novel featuring protagonist Victoria, just as she is emancipated from the foster care system on her eighteenth birthday. We follow her first steps as an adult as she attempts to join society. She is without a high school education (by choice, not because of the system) and no job experience. She is given three months in a transitional house before the state evicts her. Because of her life in the system, Victoria has suffered abuse to an extent, as well as identity issues. We all felt she was a borderline sociopath, as she is extremely anti-social, has behavior issues, doesn't take responsibility, has poor behavior control, is impulsive and thoughtless, is egocentric, lacks empathy, lacks remorse for the most part, and doesn't seem to relate to other humans. When her boss informs Victoria that she is not the only person who has suffered in the world and experienced trauma, Victoria seems truly surprised (despite having grown up surrounded by girls in her situation).
Victoria does bond with certain humans, mostly the three people in her life that connected with her through flowers. Through a chapter-by-chapter flashback, we meet the ten-year old Victoria as she is first exposed to the world of flowers through Elizabeth, a woman who nearly adopts Victoria at one point. We follow Victoria as she learns to love the flowers, and spends the next eight years studying them extensively. She has few possessions when she leaves the group home, but she does retain her flower books. Outside of Elizabeth, Victoria is able to bond with her boss, a florist, and Grant, a wholesale flower seller/grower. These two people love flowers as well, and are able to communicate and bond with Victoria. Though we all agreed she did not make it easy on them, as she is a difficult person to love.
There was a lot of discussion on how realistic Victoria's situation is in the real world, and if the people in her life would have been as patient with her as they were in this novel. Forgiveness and second chances is unquestionably a theme here, but we weren't certain if Victoria had earned either even a little. If anything, Victoria glides from one thing to another, not really fighting for anything, and mostly running away. She doesn't seem to "want" anything, even when success, love and friendship find her. Many of us were frustrated with Victoria's complete inability to care about her circumstances or to have any desire for more in life. She doesn't have to do much to move from one place to another in the novel, and we felt unsatisfied with her efforts. Not one person who read the book underestimated her hardships in life or how much she suffered as a child, but even with our pity and empathy with the girl, we were still frustrated with her. It's hard to care about a book when the central character doesn't care much either.
There was also a general feeling of disbelief in the way Victoria's life played out in regard to her sudden entrepreneurship, uncharacteristic for a teenage girl who weeks before took to hiding in the bushes when she couldn't cope with life. We felt Victoria's business sense and opinions were far beyond her years, despite the "street smarts" she may or may not have gained from growing up in the system. We also felt her attitude in the business didn't match her character traits we had seen earlier in the novel. There was not enough time between actions to show that Victoria had grown or matured, and we felt the circumstances at the end didn't make much sense to us.
On a positive note, everyone appreciated the clever and inventive "romance" in the novel, which was atypical and refreshing. Despite there being a romance in the story line, it is absolutely not the point of the novel and never overshadows or controls Victoria's journey, which moved the novel away from the chick lit genre, which we tire of. Everyone enjoyed the examination of various types of female bonds in this novel, namely mother-daughter bonds, friend bonds and connections within the female community. When pushed to a difficult place, Victoria thinks of the mother she nearly had once, and not her boyfriend, something we all appreciated as a fresh perspective.
The language of flowers is used very inventively in the novel, and everyone enjoyed how it was woven into the fabric of the plot. The different examination of flowers offered lots of interesting discussion topics. Victoria's delight in flowers everywhere, in her job, in her room, in the public park, and even people's yards, made us all reflect on how quickly we move through life without noticing the nuances. Flowers are such a big part of people's lives, and we loved seeing the various topics in the novel such as marriage and grief, love and anger, and even general boredom. We really enjoyed the parts in which Victoria made special bouquets for her regulars at the flower shop - and we all (lovingly) compared it to "Chocolat" in that aspect. The light touch of magic and intuition was well-appreciated for those of us who enjoy Sarah Addison Allen, Alice Hoffman and Joanne Harris. Though the subject matter, being so complex and dark, moved it away from those novels as well, and offered an original plot. We enjoyed the flower shop aspect so much (and Victoria's growth there) that we wished the author had continued the journey there, which was such an appropriate place for a teenage girl in her situation in which to mature. We felt the strongest points of the novel were here, and once Victoria runs away, the novel starts to unravel and become less realistic.
Other discussion topics included forgiveness of deceit and theft, abandonment of children, the dynamics of both romance and mother-daughter relationships in regards to the novel itself, self-awareness, and responsibility.
Book Style: The book had some flaws of a debut novel, and was heavy-handed on the foreshadowing, making it somewhat predictable. We all knew who Victoria would date, what her childhood sin was and how the book would end, because the foreshadowing wasn't subtle. The phrase deux ex machina came up quite a bit, as we felt the plot was contrived or overly coincidental, with answers presenting themselves to the protagonist without any effort on her part or any train of logic to support the change in events or actions of the characters. That being said, we thought the writing style was gorgeous, and everyone had chosen phrases or quotes they thought were beautiful. The writing style of the author was fluid, comfortable, bright and never pretentious. The chapters and continuity flowed well and easily. The pace was steady and kept the interest of the reader.
For every book we've read in book club (this marking our 35th book as a group) we rated this book a 6 on a scale of 10. It won major points for being readable, interesting, refreshing and original. Everyone loved the games that the book inspired. Everyone loved learning about the language of flowers.
For "books of all time" - the book rated lower with an average of 3. We felt it was a flawed but lovely debut. We appreciate what it stands for (foster care children) but weren't sure if Victoria was a proper voice for the movement. We thought the book could have taken a few more redrafts but was, overall, a solid work.
Neutral Note: The book is most certainly a marketing tool for the author's foundation - https://www.camellianetwork.org/
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But Elizabeth too has issues with family and is isolated and alone and it all goes horribly wrong. How can you love if you feel unloved and unworthy? How can you mother if you don't feel mothered?. It's a warm and engrossing book. I found the threads of the messages, the hidden meanings of flowers a fascinating hook that underpinned a lovely story with engaging and well written characters. A book with a lot of charm and a heroine to really root for and care about despite some extraordinary: "oh no, don't do that" situations. She doesn't have it easy, and seems to hurtle from one terrible decision and situation to the next with some certainty they are the right decisions in the circumstances she finds herself in hurting people who love her on her journey. The writer really makese you care about her. A book with a lot of heart and charm, I felt. The meaning of flowers underpins a story of a troubled girl you end up rooting for. A new writer for me, but I would read her again.
The narrative alternates between present day: Victoria facing the challenges of 'emancipation' and eventually finding some sort of structure to her life...and tales of a year spent, when she was nine, in the home of Elizabeth, a woman who wants to adopt Victoria and insists that nothing the latter can ever do could kill Elizabeth's love for her or make her send Victoria away. Yet Elizabeth is patently no longer in Victoria's life. Why not? What went wrong?
The legacy of her time with Elizabeth is a knowledge of, and love for, the language of flowers. She has the same sort of intuitive, almost magical, understanding of flowers as Vianne has of chocolate.
While Victoria is not exactly a sympathetic character, I loved her feistiness and ached for her fragility. I was rooting for her throughout the whole book, rejoicing at her small triumphs and weeping when she seemed yet again to press the self-destruct button. Far from unfeeling, Victoria is exceptionally sensitive - and more distrusting of her own ability to avoid ruining things than any of her brief would-be foster carers were.
All the characters are well drawn, as are their relationships with Victoria. The emotional arc she traces is involving, powerful and completely captivating. The book explores relationships, communication, expectations and redemption. To avoid a spoiler, I will simply say - I wish Victoria had known the critical fact about moss sooner.
While I'm talking about Kindle-related things, the conversion to Kindle is great. A very few times when words have ended up jammed together ("tome" rather than "to me") which seems to be a recurring problem with Kindle books in my experience, but otherwise perfect: TOC works brilliantly, references every chapter... basically, no problems that are going to get in the way of the reader's enjoyment.
So... the book itself. The story is told in first person from Victoria's point of view. She is a young woman on the eve of emancipation, having spent most of her life being shuffled from foster home to foster home and then through a succession of group homes. There are two parallel storylines: We see Victoria turning 18 and leaving the welfare system and the safety net of sorts that her social worker has provided over the years. We also see her aged 10, in the last foster home/possible adoptive home chance before she was officially labelled "unadoptable". For much of the book, these two storylines intertwine, a chapter of the present time followed by a chapter of the past.
It's not an especially comfortable or easy thing to spend a whole book in Victoria's head. She is angry, distrustful, dislikes being touched, lies, steals... she's a bundle of flaws, traits and characteristics that make her a difficult character, especially as she spends considerable energy trying to repel those around her and is incapable of loving or trusting anyone, or of accepting that anyone may love or trust her. It may seem unrealistic to some, but anyone who is or has known someone who has any kind of problem (whether or not it could be categorised as an actual "attachment disorder") will realise that the prickly exterior is exactly that - an exterior, a protection, a defense, a hedgehog's coat of spines to protect its soft belly. Basically, behaviour learned in childhood and held on to even when it's inappropriate, unhelpful and downright damaging.
Whether the reader enjoys the book or not, I suspect, has much to do with whether one identifies with her in her attempt to keep the world at a distance - so that she won't get hurt, and so that she won't hurt anyone else. She comes across as pretty unsympathetic on the surface, but under that there is a deeply hurt, broken young woman. Personally, although I have little concretely in common with her, I identified with her so strongly that at times lines from the book made me weep.
There's a certain flavour of magical realism in how Diffenbaugh uses the language of flowers. I've noticed some people dislike that, personally I love a little magic sprinkled into my fiction so I loved it.
Victoria's story is one of redemption, of learning to live and to love, of failure and forgiveness. It reads, to me, as a deeply personal work for the author, which is not surprising given her history of fostering and her involvement with The Camellia Network. This is not a light read - certainly not chick lit or a beach read. It is, however, a deeply involving novel which touched me deeply. Definitely one to at least give a chance to: and to return to my original point, one of which it is well worth downloading the sample.