Monday, July 18, 2011


The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Ballantine Books, 2011, 308 pp

I loved this first novel by a writer who is also a foster mom. (It will not be released until August 23, though it can be pre-ordered now. I read it as part of a reader panel on BookBrowse.) It is possible that I was seduced by the strong message of hope in the story, but cynic that I have become in my late middle age, I do still wish the best for people and this world we live in.

Victoria has lived all her life in the foster care system of San Francisco, CA. Abandoned at birth, she became filled with rage and distrust early on. She managed to sabotage every placement, including the one with a foster mother she had come to love. When she finally aged out of the system at 18, she was left completely alone to fend for herself.

I picked this book for its title and predicted a romantic summer read. Instead I got a disturbing portrait of what abandonment and state sponsored care can do to a child. The hook in the book is the flowers and the hope of recovery from a horrid life.

Well, I was a flower child in the 1960s and even lived in San Francisco for a time. We thought we could stop hate, bombs, oppression, any of society's ills with love. We thought we could turn bombs into flowers. My mom, against whom I rebelled for years and years, who was a somewhat abandoned child herself, was also a gardener who could make anything grow. Our yard, from my earliest memories, was always a fantasy of flowers. How ironic the way things just come around as one grows older and has more experience with life.

For me, this was a perfect read after all. I did also get the romance aspect I expected through the improbably lucky breaks that came Victoria's way and through the introduction to the long history of using flowers to communicate meaning and emotion. Victoria uses them for a broad spectrum of emotion as she continues to squander the opportunities that fate sends her, but she does find redemption and a chance to give and receive love in the end. All because of flowers and her skill with them.

I would call this book a romance of the fierce survivor.

(The Language of Flowers is available in hardcover by pre-order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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