25 October 2011

Just finished reading...

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

Victoria Jones was abandoned as a baby and grew up in the foster-care system, not spending more than a year with anyone. Never having felt loved by anyone, she's certain that she is incapable of the emotion herself.

At the age of nine, she is placed with a single woman named Elizabeth Hastings, who owns a vineyard, where she also lives. Victoria stays with her the longest, discovering that she shares Elizabeth's love and talent for horticulture in general, as well as viticulture. It is Elizabeth who teaches Victoria the language of flowers, which Victoria eventually adopts as her major method of communication, completely aware that many people won't understand it.

The narrative begins on Victoria's eighteenth birthday, as she is preparing to be transferred from a group home to The Gathering House, a "transitional home". Here, she'll have three months in which to find a job and start paying rent, or be evicted.

Told in the first person in Victoria's viewpoint, we learn how she handles her first opportunity at self-sufficiency. In alternating chapters, she tells us the story of her arrival at Elizabeth's and the not-quite-a-year she lives with her.

This book is not for the faint of heart. The language of flowers can be used to express negative emotions as well pleasant ones, and Victoria does both. Victoria's voice, as written by Diffenbaugh, is very powerful. We share her experiences almost viscerally, and in some instances it's impossible not to be repulsed by her actions while completely understanding her motivations.

Diffenbaugh's prose is astonishing. This is one of those books where the reader is torn between wanting to know what happens and reading slowly in order to appreciate her communication using the written word while she teaches us the language of flowers.

The book includes Victoria's Dictionary of Flowers as an appendix.

*FTC Full Disclosure: My thanks to Library Journal, who sent me an advance copy of the book for review purposes.

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