The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Victoria Jones has spent the first eighteen years of her life being moved from one foster home and care home to another. On her eighteenth birthday she is released from the care system and sent out into the world with no qualifications and no skills other than her knowledge of flowers and what they mean. When Victoria is offered a job as a florist’s assistant she finally has a chance to turn her life around, but first she needs to confront a secret from her past.

Interspersed with this storyline, we are given flashbacks to an earlier period in Victoria’s life, when she was nine years old and living with one of her foster parents, Elizabeth. There are hints that something traumatic happened during this time, but we don’t find out what it was until near the end of the book. I liked the way the story was told in short, alternating chapters, divided almost equally between Victoria’s present and her past because structuring the novel in this way meant we could slowly piece together a vivid picture of Victoria and the moments that shaped her life. It also helped sustain some suspense and mystery throughout the book, making us wonder exactly what happened while Victoria was living with Elizabeth.

I did enjoy The Language of Flowers, but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if Victoria had been a character I had liked or could relate to in any way. I can appreciate that the author was trying to show the effects of a troubled childhood on a person’s emotions and social interactions, and I did sympathise with Victoria – I could see why she was so insecure and why she was afraid to get too close to anyone. I don’t really know anything about the US foster care system (or fostering in general) and while I’m sure the majority of foster parents genuinely want to give the child in their care a loving home, it’s sad to think there might really be children like Victoria who have had some bad experiences. So I could understand why Victoria behaved the way she did, but she continued to frustrate me throughout the entire book and I never quite managed to connect with her at all.

On a more positive note, I did love the ‘language of flowers’ aspect of the book. I really like the idea of people secretly communicating using flowers. I thought the ways in which Vanessa Diffenbaugh incorporated the flower meanings into the novel were cleverly done and as I have absolutely no knowledge of the subject myself, I appreciated the inclusion of Victoria’s Flower Dictionary at the back of the book!

For me, then, I think The Language of Flowers was a book where I liked the concept of the story better than the story itself. Don’t let me put you off reading it though, because I know not all readers will have the problem I had with Victoria – and apart from that, this was not a bad book at all.

11 thoughts on “The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

    • Helen says:

      Most people seem to have loved this book, so it’s good to know I’m not alone in being underwhelmed by it! I did enjoy parts of it but it would have helped if I’d been able to warm to Victoria more.

  1. Anbolyn says:

    I decided to skip this one for just the reason you state. The concept was tempting and sounded fascinating, but when I started reading it I could tell that the story wasn’t going to live up to my expectations.

    • Helen says:

      After reading so many positive reviews of this book it didn’t live up to my expectations either. I think you probably made the right decision not to continue reading it.

  2. Deb Atwood says:

    Hi Helen,

    I wonder if you have read White Oleander. It might be interesting to compare the two books with similar motifs.

    I agree with you that if I’m going to spend 300+ pages with someone, I really want to like that person.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read White Oleander, but yes it would be interesting to be able to compare the two. I liked the concept of this book – it was really just the main character that I didn’t like.

  3. Mel says:

    Here in Australia there is a monthly TV book program called The First Tuesday book club, on the ABC. Anyway, the presenter, who I generally trust on all things bookish, said very similar things to yourself. Actually she was a lot harsher. It is a shame, because it sounds like such a great idea for a story.

    • Helen says:

      It’s nice to know there are other people who share my opinion of this book, as most of the reviews I’ve read have been very positive. I wish I had liked Victoria more, as I think that would made a big difference to how much I enjoyed the book.

  4. Soul Muser says:

    Hi Helen…I did feel the same as well. Victoria frustrated me no end – and towards the end, I was just about ready to give in, unable to relate or understand or like you said, connect with her at any level. It’s the sort of book that is beautiful as a piece, as a painting, but I can only admire it from so far. Lovely blog, by the way 🙂

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