Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Language of Flowers

Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Released: 2011
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Library

Victoria Jones is moving on to a new stage in her life, but her prospects are beyond bleak. Emancipated from the foster care system, but with no marketable skills, no real education, no friends, and no job, Victoria seems set on a course for disaster. Her one shining light is her knowledge of the language of flowers. She takes comfort in building herself a garden of meaning, even while she's homeless and sleeping in the park. Her knowledge soon gets her a job at a flower shop, and it appears that things are looking up for her. But her past is not so easy to disregard, and even as things seem to be going well, Victoria has to struggle to find herself and value herself for who she is.

The Language of Flowers is a really strong debut for Vanessa Diffenbaugh. She portrays the ache and pain of a young woman's self-discovery and acceptance with grace and empathy - and her craft and style of writing doesn't hurt either! I liked the alternating chapters of the present with Victoria's most important foster family situation. It's a good contrast between the unbridled emotion of the younger Victoria with the reined-in, tight-lipped present-day Victoria.

The tone of the book is interesting. In some ways, it reminded me of Camus' L'etranger, with its simple, seemingly apathetic, matter-of-fact description of events, but there's also a depth and complexity of emotion and story. And there are so many layers to explore in order to get to the real Victoria, under the imposed concealments and her own resistance to any form of real expression.

All the characters in the story (with perhaps the exception of Meredith, the case worker who basically abandons Victoria) are likable in their own way, and I loved how each one helps Victoria bloom through his or her own personality.

I'd give this book more than five stars - it's real and raw and completely touching.

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