Thursday, August 9, 2012

Literary Bite: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Vanessa Diffenbaugh's first novel, The Language of Flowers, is a bit gimmicky, but at the same time sincere and elegant.

The cover and title makes the book appear super-fluffy, but it actually has a lot of depth and serious themes – the foster care system, homelessness, and single motherhood.

The novel is built around (literally) the language of flowers.  Especially popular in the Victorian era, each type and color of flower was attributed with meanings and sentiments. People then used flowers to symbolically convey messages. For example, pansy = loving thoughts, white carnations = remembrance, yellow rose = infidelity, thistle = misanthropy.

The main character, Victoria, a newly emancipated foster child in San Francisco, is kind of obsessed with flower meanings. She reconciles multiple flower dictionaries (an actual thing!) to make her own, which is included in the back of the book.

The story switches back and forth between misanthropic 9-year-old Victoria living in a foster home and hoping to be adopted by a woman who is teaching her the language of flowers, and 18-year-old Victoria (still misanthropic), semi-homeless and working at a flower shop and falling in love with her former foster mother’s estranged nephew. (Sounds a bit soap opera-y, but it’s really not.)

Victoria is a totally believable and generally likeable main character, though I definitely wanted to shake her multiple times throughout the book. She has major trust issues, and doesn't believe that anyone can love her (totally understandable considering the whole foster care thing, but at the same time, Get over yourself everyone can be lovable!!!)

I always enjoy books that take place in Northern California (my home), since I can exactly picture and feel the vineyard/flower farm/farmer’s market an hour north of San Francisco.

This is a great quick summertime beach/pool reading type of book. Good and interesting, but not difficult.
I say thumbs up! (Green thumbs up?) (Oh dear. I'm sorry, couldn’t resist.)

More reviews from the NYT and Washington Post.