THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Book Quote:

“I acknowledged his presence only by reaching out to grasp what he had brought me, keeping my eyes on the ground. When I was safely around a corner, out of view, I looked into my hand.

Oval, gray-green leaves grew from a tangle of lime-colored twigs, translucent balls clinging to the branches like drops of rain. The clipping fit exactly into the ball of my hand, and the soft leaves stung where they touched.


‘I surmount all obstacles’.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  AUG 23, 2011)

Before she is emancipated at eighteen years old, Victoria Jones has lived in 32 different foster homes creating havoc wherever she’s lived. Abandoned at birth by a mother she never knew and knows nothing about, the only steady contact she’s had in her life is Meredith, her social worker. Meredith’s role is primarily to take Victoria from one foster home and place her in another.

The novel goes back and forth in time, exploring Victoria’s childhood years and comparing them with her current life. The reader learns of the one real and significant relationship that Victoria had as a child – her relationship with Elizabeth who wanted to adopt her when she was ten. It is through Elizabeth that Victoria learns the Elizabethan language of flowers, each flower signifying an emotion or feeling. Victoria’s time with Elizabeth started out very rocky and during the sixteen months she spent there, she grew to love Elizabeth. A tragedy prevents the adoption from taking place.

Once emancipated from her final group home at eighteen years old, Victoria has no place to live. She makes herself a shelter in Delores Park in San Francisco. There she plants a garden with flowers that she tends with love. She observes a florist, Renata, who own a store called Blooms and approaches her with a request for work. At first, Victoria works one day a week helping Renata at the wholesale flower market on Sundays. Her work time increases and she is able to rent a very small apartment on the money she earns.

At the flower market, Victoria meets a man who she is attracted to. This is a miracle for her as she hates to be touched – physically or psychically. This man, Grant, corresponds with her by the language of flowers, sending her notes that have particular meaning in the floral tongue. Victoria responds to this but is terrified of intimacy or attachment of any type.

Her knowledge of flowers and their meanings is so complete that Renata’s customers go to Victoria and ask her to make special bouquets for goals in their lives – pure love (dianthus), purity of heart (water lily), warmth of feeling (peppermint), and courage (protea). These are just a few of the dreams, hopes, and aspirations that Victoria’s clients ask her to share with them in her flower arrangements. Renata, as Victoria’s mentor, watches happily as Victoria begins to come into herself.

I found myself smelling the flowers as I read the book. It was like an experience in synesthesia. Sometimes I smelled roses, then peppermint, then cherry blossoms. I was mesmerized by the book and the flower metaphors that prevailed. I loved the way The Language of Flowers showed how Victoria was able to escape her locked in world of fear, to reach out in a way that only someone else well-versed in her floral knowledge could respond to. When Grant and Victoria start a correspondence with flowers, the reader can’t help but root for them to overcome all the many obstacles in their paths.

This is a book filled with pain and anguish, ameliorated to some extent by the beauty of floral language that the protagonist is well-versed in. Without this language, she would be alone, cut off from everyone and without a way to communicate. It’s her own personal way of signing as she is deaf to the true meaning of the spoken word. Her life of group home after group home has dulled her senses, scared her out of trying intimacy and prevented her from normal attachment.

Victoria is a lonely soul whose growth and connections are beautifully portrayed in this book. This is a debut novel by the author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, who attributes her inspiration for writing it in part from her experience as a foster mother. Diffenbaugh has a natural affinity for words and I hope that this is the beginning of a long and fruitful writing career.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 57 readers
PUBLISHER: Ballantine Books; First Edition (August 23, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


August 23, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel, Reading Guide

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