Title: The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Random House Audio
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Tara Sands
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 50 minutes
First line: For eight years I dreamed of fire.
Goodreads blurb: The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.
Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.
Because I had heard of the Victorian language of flowers before, I assumed this book was historical fiction. I enjoy historical fiction, but the cover didn’t grab me, so I didn’t look into it. Then I started seeing reviews online that indicated that it wasn’t historical fiction, and it was an excellent book. When I saw that my library had it available on audio via Overdrive, I downloaded it.
Right off the bat, I knew that unless the writing completely stunk, I was going to enjoy this book – and that is simply because Tara Sands is such a fantastic audiobook narrator, especially in first person. She voiced the character of Victoria so perfectly. And what a character she is! Because this book deals with a very tragic childhood, it could have easily become a maudlin story of a poor orphan girl, one you feel sorry for, but don’t really connect with as a fully formed person. Victoria, however, is a fully formed person – a strong young woman who has learned to cope in ways that seem so out of the mainstream to us, but that were the only ways she had available to her.
There are two timelines to this story: the current, in which Victoria has just turned 18 and has been emancipated and is trying to make it on her own; the past, in which a much younger Victoria went to stay with Elizabeth, the only person who truly acted like a family to her. The reason why she didn’t stay with Elizabeth and ended up in a group home is one of the central events of the story, an event that is slowly revealed, scene by scene.
While the writing is gorgeous, especially the descriptions of the flowers and the vineyard, the true strength of The Language of Flowers lies in its characters. Victoria is prickly and untrusting, yet fierce and strong. Renata, the florist who gives Victoria a job, is blunt and intuitive, and probably the only person the newly emancipated Victoria could have successfully worked for. Grant, the young man who sees beyond Victoria’s iron shell to the young girl she once was. And Elizabeth, who wants more than anything to be a mother, but who is harboring her own painful past.
The Language of Flowers is absorbing, character-driven contemporary fiction, and Vanessa Diffenbaugh has found that elusive mixture of gorgeous prose, a forward-moving plot, and characters you fall in love with. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.