Wednesday, October 3, 2012

THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

After bouncing around among assorted unpleasant foster homes since infancy, Victoria Jones is now being thrust out into the world ("emancipated") on her 18th birthday.    Victoria is an angry young woman who flinches at being touched and who believes that she is unable to sustain any sort of bond with another person.  We learn about Victoria's past through alternating chapters that reflect mainly on the year she spent with Elizabeth, a vintner who taught Victoria the language of flowers.  Elizabeth was saintly in her forgiveness of 10-year-old Victoria's many transgressions, which were not slip-ups but intentional acts of meanness.  Victoria outdid herself in the malice that caused her to leave Elizabeth's care, and now, 8 years later, she strikes up a friendship of sorts with Elizabeth's nephew, Grant, who grows flowers to sell to florists like Renata.  Elizabeth's knowledge of flowers and the emotions they are supposed to evoke (jealousy, love, regret, etc.) have landed her some occasional work for Renata.  As she struggles to limit her emotional attachments, Victoria encounters a slew of encouraging and caring people, including Renata, who help guide her through a transition to a woman who can thrive in the real world.  This smattering of friends and mentors seemed a little unlikely, and the storyline is a little too typical for my tastes.  I found Elizabeth's unconditional love of Victoria a bit unbelievable, too, but the author has more experience with foster children than I do, and I'm sure she has the ability to tolerate misbehavior more patiently than I ever could.  Despite these minor drawbacks, the novel is charming.  The most obvious consequence of having read it is that now I'll want to consult a flower dictionary before sending anyone a floral arrangement.

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