Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh Picador

 Are you looking for your best read of the year?  The Language of Flowers may well be it.  The blurb on the cover of my advance copy says “Anyone can grow into something beautiful” hinting at possible saccharine qualities. However this is no artificially over sweetened concoction.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s story starts with us meeting Victoria, a ward of the state, who has never been adopted.  She has at last reached emancipation and is starting an adult life where it is now all up to her. The only constant in Victoria’s life has been her case worker, Meredith.  Meredith has tried repeatedly to help this lost soul connect and feel loved by foster family after foster family.  At age 10 Elizabeth is taken by Meredith to live with Elizabeth a grape farmer and flower lover who farms a short drive from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge.  This is intimated to be Victoria’s last chance for adoption rather than institutional living.

The story is told in flashbacks to this time by the now adult Victoria.  For reasons slowly revealed it seems this last chance didn’t work out.  Elizabeth is sleeping rough.  Her love for and understanding of the messages that can be written with flowers is the one positive in her life from her time with Elizabeth.  Flowers are used to tell a delightfully moving story as this young woman tries to find her feet after a life time of being lost.  This subtext is quiet beautiful and the book helpfully contains a glossary of common flowers and their meanings.

The Language of Flowers is a sweet novel leavened with life experience and the raw pain of growing up without the support of a consistent loving family.  It is also is a San Francisco novel.  I mean that quite specifically.  San Francisco is a city we have all connected with if only in our imagination.  A place of freedom to succeed, to float to fail.  Beggars are welcome, social conventions are not strictly adhered to here and the city can simply disappear behind its legendary fog.

For Victoria flowers and the city of San Francisco may offer a way out of her pain.  Diffenbaugh also seems to be suggesting that flowers can also help all of us find the message we are seeking.   I sincerely recommend you read this book.  Then with a quiet smile wipe away a tear and then share this book with a friend.

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