I learned of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s Language of Flowers in a book review by one of my FaceBook writer friends, Erika Robuck, who recently blogged on WWW.
Her review convinced me that this was a book I wanted to read. And wouldn’t you know, in an instance of synchronicity, a few days later I read that Ms. Diffenbaugh was indeed visiting Highland Park United Methodist Church, as the first guest in their Authors Live series. None of my WWW ladies could go, so I dragged along a good friend, another Elizabeth (we seem to be accumulating Eliz(s)abeth's these days!).
The back cover is splashed with wonderful blurbs by some of our favorite authors (and former guests on WWW).
“A deftly powerful story of finding your way home, even after you’ve burned every bridge behind you. The Language of Flowers took my heart apart, chapter by chapter, then reassembled the broken pieces in better working condition. I loved this book."
—Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
In an intimate crowd, the elegant Ms. Diffenbaugh mesmerized the audience with stories of her life as an author, mother, foster parent, and founder of an amazing non-profit, The Camellia Network. Its mission is “to activate networks of citizens in every community to provide the critical support young people need to transition from foster care to adulthood.” Later in the year, Ms. Diffenbaugh will stop by to tell us more about her labor of love.
Sometimes I go to these author talks and want so much to like the book, but it falls short somehow. Not so with The Language of Flowers. While the characters were full of flaws, the writing was flawless; in my book that makes for a dynamite combination.
Victoria is a child who perseveres despite her painful life of moving from one foster home to another, finally ending up at a group home after a brief chance at a real mother/daughter relationship. She is prickly, dramatic and striking, a mixture of thistle, roses and peony. In Victoria’s world, flowers represent all emotion, flowers speak the words and feelings she cannot. One of my favorite passages came toward the end where Victoria imagines what her world of flowers could accomplish.
“…would alter the quantities of anger, grief, and mistrust growing in the earth on a massive scale. Farmers would uproot fields of foxglove to plant yarrow, the soft clusters of pink, yellow, and cream the cure to a broken heart.”
Elizabeth, the woman who tries to adopt Victoria, is broken herself yet steadfast in her love, despite the girl’s self-sabotaging ways. While some parts of the book had me squeamish and cringing, Ms. Diffenbaugh beautifully knit the story between Victoria’s painful past and the present where she is a lesson in determination.
This is a book for mothers and daughters. It’s a book for anyone who thinks they have caused someone else pain beyond forgiveness. Or for anyone who wonders how one person can help a child acclimate to the scary world, into which each year thousands of children emancipate from foster care with twenty dollars and a lifetime of pain.