2020 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge · 2020 Reviews · contemporary fiction

POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Today I am marking off my thirty sixth #36th checkpoint category for the POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020 with:

I used the same flowers again and again: a bouquet of marigold, grief; a bucket of thistle, misanthropy; a pinch of dried basil; hatred. Only occasionally did my communication vary.

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey what words could not, from declarations of admiration to confessions of betrayal.

For Victoria Jones, alone after a childhood in foster care, it is her way of expressing a legacy of grief and guilt. Believing she is damaged beyond hope, she trusts nobody, connecting with the world only through message-laden bouquets.

Review:

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh was released in 2011 to great success. Translated into 42 languages and staying on the New York Times best-seller list for almost 70 weeks, Diffenbaugh’s first novel helped to elevate the author to worldwide notoriety. Inspired by Diffenbaugh’s own experiences as a foster carer and her subsequent work as the founder of the Camellia Network, an organisation dedicated to helping youth transition from foster care, The Language of Flowers is a deeply empathetic novel.

Victoria Jones narrates poignant journey of The Language of Flowers. When we meet Victoria at age eighteen, the reader learns that Victoria has lived a tough life as an orphan. Pushed from pillar to post, from one foster home to another, Victoria struggles to adjust to her new life as an independent adult. With no support, destitute and homeless, Victoria uses her special gift for reading the implicit meanings of flowers to gain employment as a florist. Slowly Victoria begins to make steps towards embracing a life of her own, using her unique way of communicating via flowers to draw in strangers and new friends. But Victoria is still haunted by her past and the trauma from her life as a child growing up in the foster care system. Victoria must accept her past in order to achieve future happiness.

I feel as though The Language of Flowers is a book that has been lingering on my shelves for far too long, years in fact! Instead of turning to Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s book in print, I experienced The Language of Flowers in audio book format. I did appreciate many aspects of this story and the narration was mostly engaging. I’m glad to finally claim to have read this popular and long-standing bestselling novel.

The mainstay of Vanesa Diffenbaugh’s novel is the communication aspect. I really appreciated the opportunity to learn about the art of communication via the language of flowers. Through Diffenbaugh’s novel I was able to consider the way in which flowers can symbolise and offer affirmations to common life experiences. I enjoyed the flower language sentiments that were carefully embroidered into this book. After reading The Language of Flowers I was inspired to look further into the Victorian Flower Dictionary. This compilation rose to success during the nineteenth century, which allowed people of this time to expresses feelings towards others in the form of coded messages in floral arrangements. I was amazed at this form of language adopted by the lead of Diffenbaugh’s tale, Victoria Jones. The author does this aspect of her novel complete justice.

The other component in Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s tale that worked well was the insight into the foster care system and the experiences of vulnerable children at the mercy of this form of care. My heart went out to the lead of this novel, Victoria Jones. As the story unfolds we learn that Victoria was abandoned at birth by her mother and subsequently thrown from one foster home to the next, while never gaining full adoption. It is truly heartbreaking and eye opening. Diffenbaugh has linked in her own first-hand experiences as a foster carer to add a strong level of authenticity to the devastating storyline highlighted in The Language of Flowers.

The downfall of this novel rests with the main character, Victoria Jones, which is quite unfortunate. Although I felt desperately sorry for this troubled young woman, I found Victoria’s narration to be quite aloof, harsh, disconnected, disturbed and distanced. I didn’t agree with Victoria’s choices and the punishing actions she inflicts in herself, as well as others. It was difficult to grasp at times and despite knowing her troubled background, I still couldn’t excuse some of Victoria’s responses to certain situations. I do apologise if this is vague, but I prefer not to mention specifics to avoid spoilers. Victoria is well realised, despite my clear misgivings with her as a character. Likewise, many of the support cast feel as though Diffenbaugh has modelled her cast on real life personalities she has encountered in her world as a foster carer.

An emotional story of change, acceptance, communication, relationships, motherhood, loss, disconnection, longing, trauma, recovery and atonement, The Language of Flowers draws our attention to a different mode of communication, via flowers to express meaning. A one-of-a-kind novel that offers a unique reading experience, The Language of Flowers is a soulful tale.

*** 3.5 stars

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh was published on 1st August 2011. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, visit here.

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