Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Language of Flowers

During the Victorian era, there was a language of flowers which allowed suitors to send message-laden bouquets conveying their heart’s sentiments to their beloveds merely by the flowers selected; red roses for love, rosemary for remembrance, dahlias for dignity, and honeysuckle for devotion, to name a few. In Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut novel, The Language of Flowers, 18-year old Victoria Jones, newly emancipated from the foster care system where she'd found nothing but sorrow and solitude, uses her gift with flowers to change the lives of others while struggling to overcome the demons of her own past.

Victoria describes herself as “more of a thistle-peony-basil kind of girl” (misanthropy-anger-hate). After a childhood spent going from home to home, at the tender age of 10 following a tragic chain of events that separated her from the only person that had ever truly loved her, she was declared “unadoptable” by the County and shipped off to a group home where she resided until her 18th birthday when she was finally on her own; with her future and its success or failure now laying solely on her shoulders. With nowhere to go, no job, friends or education, Victoria ends up on the street, sleeping in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own.

Scared and hungry, Victoria’s saving grace proves to be Renata, a local florist willing to overlook the dirty clothes and leaves in the young girl’s hair and instead see her talent. Renata asks for only part-time help at first, including assistance at the wholesale flower market, where Victoria meets Grant, a mysterious flower farmer with a stall at the market. Angry and mistrusting, Victoria rebuffs Grant’s simple overtures of friendship, but he scales her defenses by speaking to her in a language she understands, flowers. Grant’s first gift is mistletoe, meaning I surmount all obstacles, and the next, a sketch of white poplar meaning time.

Soon Victoria has a roof over her head and a place to rest her head at night, even if it is only a closet; a job at Renata’s shop, Bloom, where she helps old Earl woo his forgetful wife and Bethany find love, and (pardon the flower-related pun) a blooming relationship with Grant, whose connection to her past and its painful secrets, forces her to question herself and the lengths to which she’ll go to grasp a chance at happiness.

The Language of Flowers is a stunning debut that awes with the palpable emotion the author has managed to bring to the page; effortlessly exposing the raw wounds found in a broken heart, as it journeys towards healing. In its pages you’ll find a story of heartbreak, forgiveness and redemption; featuring an unforgettable heroine whose voice poignantly touches your heart with the depths of her fear, anger, suffering, and ultimately hope. An honest to goodness page-turner which I loved.

With chapters alternating between past and present, Diffenbaugh slowly reveals the source of Victoria’s pain; the 9-year old's desolation at being unwanted, the feeling of guilt and shame that somehow it’s all her fault, and the desperate need to be loved which drove her to commit an act for which she can’t forgive herself and that haunts her dreams 'til this day. I wept for both Victoria’s past, but also for her present; a present guided by lessons ingrained in her fragile heart and psyche over a lifetime, and eagerly read each new page with both hope and trepidation, anxiously awaiting the truth of her future and for her to find the love and joy so long denied.

The Language of Flowers is a gift to its readers; offering a red rose of love and a starwort of welcome, it is a testament to the healing power of love and forgiveness.