The Language of Flowers

Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, in her recent interview for the New York Times “By the Book,” suggested that a sign of a good book is one that makes you feel an emotion so deeply, you might be angry with the characters.  She identified Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers as such a book.

“At one point {I was} so mad at the main character, I had to remind myself, ‘Carla, this is fiction.’  But when that happens, you know a story has you hooked.”

9780345525550_p0_v1_s192x300  I identified with Hayden’s description of authors who evoke emotion; recently someone asked why I connected to favorite authors like Anita Shreve, Anne Tyler, Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, and others.  I look for their books as soon as they are published, often pre-ordering and reading the book as soon as I can download it.  Getting lost in a story, living through the characters, being in another place for a while – sometimes forgetting the story is fiction – all make reading the book so pleasurable.  I’ve read The Language of Flowers, but, like so many books I’ve read, I could not remember the plot, characters, details…  Luckily, my review jogged my memory.

Read my review here.

Diffenbaugh has written another since her first novel in 2011.  She addresses another social issue in We Never Asked for Wings; 32871-v1-197x   it centers on a Mexican-American family headed by Letty, a mother struggling to make a life for her two children in a crumbling housing development outside of San Francisco.  Although written in 2014, the story seems eerily timely.  Have you read it?

What authors “hook” you into their stories?  What books make you forget you are reading fiction?


The Language of Flowers

Periwinkle to inspire tender recollections, lilies of the valley to bring a return to happiness – with the hidden meaning of flowers to sooth a troubled soul, Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers is as full of enchantment as it is about foster care.   Victoria, an orphan since she was abandoned as a baby, has been defiantly in and out of foster homes.  At eighteen, she is “emancipated” from her last group home and sent out into the world – homeless, without an education or any prospects.  Flowers are her only salvation.

Diffenbaugh alternates chapters from Victoria’s memories of her only loving temporary home with Elizabeth, who patiently taught her about flowers and nurtured a connection that becomes her safety line – to Victoria as she tries to forge a life as an itinerate worker with a local florist.

As she struggles to overcome her past as an unwanted child, shuffled through the social services system, Victoria’s sense of self is cautious, with low expectations that are repeatedly met by everyone in her life.  She carries her scars into adulthood, mistrusting the possibility of friendship or love.  Living one step above homelessness, Victoria manages to create a career with her knowledge of flowers; her talent for using flowers to solve problems brings her success and a new life.

Diffenbaugh includes an index of flowers with an interpretation of their application; if you enjoy books that use flowers or herbs for creative therapeutic solutions, add this one to your list.

Another book with flowers that can change your life:

  • Hot House Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire