Victoria Jones has been raised in the ephemeral and often cruel world of the foster-care system. Newly emancipated, Victoria has nowhere to go and no one to lean on. She takes solace in the Victorian language of flowers, where each plant has a meaning to decipher and a message to convey. When a local florist discovers that Victoria has a penchant for creating bouquets that speak to the needs of the buyer, she starts to build a life for herself. A mysterious flower vendor forces Victoria to examine her life and her past before she can grapple with her future.
Vanessa Diffenbaugh managed to craft a debut novel that is many things: clever, tender, tough. It’s also often exasperating, frustrating, and nail-bitingly intense. It’s likely to divide readers when it comes to the likability of its heroine (what I would give to live in a world where this is no longer an issue, guys). No matter where readers fall on the character of Victoria, it’s hard to argue that this book doesn’t pack an emotional punch.
Whether or not readers like the memorable Victoria is sort of beside the point. She’s a one of a kind heroine: scarred, deeply suspicious, and also more than a little self-destructive. But Diffenbaugh does such a lovely job of providing the readers with ample reasons why Victoria is this way that it never feels inauthentic. She’ll stick with readers long after they finish the book.
Another aspect of the novel that works especially well is the way in which Diffenbaugh narrates it. We flip back and forth between Victoria’s present as a young adult with her past in an almost seamless way. The two stories unfold in a parallel manner, and both are compelling. Victoria’s been dealt a really, really raw deal, but she’s also a survivor.
There are moments where the novel feels like it’s close to veering off course. There’s a particularly long subplot with Victoria’s longest foster parent, Elizabeth, and her estranged sister that didnt’ seem to add much to the story overall, but this is pretty forgivable considering how beautiful the rest of the novel is.
Definitely worth your time. This is an adult book with tons of crossover appeal to teens. Recommended.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Ballantine Books: 2011. Purchased copy for book club.