17 August 2011

Book Review: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Victorian language of flowers was used to express emotions: honeysuckle for devotion, azaleas for passion, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it has been more useful in communicating feelings like 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, Victoria has nowhere to go, and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. When her talent is discovered by a local florist, she discovers her gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But it takes meeting a mysterious vendor at the flower market for her to realise what's been missing in her own life, and as she starts to fall for him, she's forced to confront a painful secret from her past, and decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

I try not to get too excited about highly anticipated books because I have found more and more that books I really look forward to just don't live up to my expectations, and I end up disappointed. I had seen this book mentioned on a few blogs as one to watch, but I hadn't taken much notice as it didn't really sound like my sort of thing. However, when a gorgeous hardback copy landed on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago, I was taken in by the absolutely stunning cover and after reading the blurb again, I decided I'd give it a try after I got my review books all read. I am so glad I gave it a chance because it was a fantastic book and certainly one I wouldn't usually pick up... it's great to read a book that takes you by surprise and stays with you!

The book is told is a really good way that gets you totally involved in the story and makes you want to read on because you want to see how everything unfolds, a clever technique used by the author there. There are alternating chapters, one with Victoria's present day story, and then another flashing back to her childhood when she lived with her aoptive mother-to-be Elizabeth. I found the narrative easy to keep up with, being written from Victoria's perspective allows you to get completely engrossed in her tale, both past and present and you find yourself feeling such sympathy for the girl who feels unwanted by everyone she's ever met in her life. It does sound like it could be a tragic tale, but there's something ultimately uplifting about this book.

The lead character of Victoria is certainly a great one. I really enjoyed hearing about her life with Elizabeth, the first place she's ever felt settled after being shoved from pillar to post when she was a very young girl in the American foster care system. It is hard to read about how hard her life was, and as a mother, I felt awful that a child could feel so unloved and burdened by life at such a young age. Diffenbaugh really captures Victoria's feelings so well, and I loved her use of first person narrative to allow the reader right into her head to experience her emotions along with her.

As well as writing a great lead character, Diffenbaugh has created a cast which complements the story brilliantly without taking the focus away from Victoria at all. There is Grant, Elizabeth's nephew and Victoria's some-time friend, a complex character who I felt just wanted to be loved, much like Victoria did. I liked how his story slowly unfolds in both Victoria's past and present narratives. Renata, the owner of flower shop Bloom has several roles in the story, and I liked her positive influence of Victoria, she is a bit of brightness in what could be a dull and lifeless world for her. Elizabeth is also a very well written character, lots of depth here and it was interesting to read about her simply from Victoria's mind, giving an biased but heartfelt account of the pair's relationship.

Of course, the flowers play a major part in the book, as the book is called The Language of Flowers. I had no idea about any of this before I picked up the book. I knew a few flowers had special meanings but not what they were or how complex the system is. Diffenbaugh manages to weave this information fluently throughout the story, revealing meaning after meaning to the readers in an interesting way, through Victoria's own love of blooms. I found it fascinating to find out some of the more popular flower's meanings, certainly not what you'd expect and I loved how passionately Victoria writes about them. It was easy to visualise some of Victoria's bouquets, the vivid descriptions by Diffenbaugh bring them to life in your mind with ease. Included at the back is a list of flowers and meanings, which is great if you're interested in finding out more once you've read the story. I did sit and have a quick read of this, it's worth a look once you've finished the book!

This book was an absolute delight to read from start to finish, and I am so glad I gave this book a try. It isn't the easiest read in parts, due to Victoria's sad life and the decisions she makes as she grows older and deals with the consequences of her actions. However, it is very thought provoking and beautifully written, with the flowers and their meanings intrinsicly woven throughout to solidify the story of Victoria and those around her. I have to say I liked the power Victoria had through her flowers, and how they seemed to influence those who had them, a touch of magic in an otherwise unmagical life. I found myself captivated by Victoria's story, equally by her past and present, eager to find out how things would end in both areas of Victoria's life. Please do read this book if you get a chance, it'll be worth every minute of your time it takes to read it. A stunning debut.

Rating: 5/5


  1. What an excellent review
    I had no intention of reading this because it just didn't appeal to me,i pretty much chose every other book released and left this out!
    On that review alone...and because your always spot on I'm definitely giving this a shot
    Thanks chloe xxx

  2. Lovely review I entered your giveaway of this one, heard some amazing things!

  3. This book is the best one I've read this year since I literally absorbed "One Day"!Amazing!!!
    And the review is absolutely right! A must-read one!