The language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers is an engaging, haunting book. Be forewarned, once you pick it up, you will NOT want to put it down. The book is about Victoria Jones, who is just 18 when we meet her. She is aging out of the foster care system, a system that has not cared well for her. (The book carries a powerful, evocative message for social workers, and all who would do good, about the unintended consequences of well meaning but misplaced help.)

Victoria is clearly a wounded and angry child/young woman.  If the right to love is a basic human right, Victoria’s right has been egregiously violated, her dignity as a human being has been ignored. Or has it?  The story follows Victoria as an 18 year old struggling to make a life, struggling to deal with a powerfully painful secret, even as Victoria remembers her days as a young child. The child Victoria hid in silence, and communicated with the world through the Victorian era language of flowers.  The young adult Victoria struggles to find her voice, even as she hides in the back of a florist shop arranging flowers.

Within  the book we meet Renata who owns a florist shop and hires the 18 year old Victoria to help in arranging flowers. Renata sees the pain and the potential in Victoria. It is in Renata’s shop that Victoria’s gift in using flowers to help others realize their dreams comes to full bloom.  We also meet Elizabeth and Grant, each of whom plays a significant role in Victoria’s past and future – but I will not write spoilers here.  Each of these characters plays a transformative role in Victoria’s life.

This is a book about the search for forgiveness, about the yearning for happiness and love.  It is sad and lovely and quite wonderful as it hints at the possibilities and the limitations of hope.

The author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, was born in 1978. She was a writing teacher, and with her husband was, and is a foster parent.  I have read that she was inspired to write “The language of Flowers” as she witnessed the struggles of youth who are transitioning out of foster care.  She is the founder of the Camellia Network, whose mission is to create a nationwide movement to support youth transitioning from foster care. The Camellia network emphasizes a belief in the interconnectedness of humanity (not unlike the African principle of ubutu, which can be translated as ‘I am because you are’). The Camellia network reminds us that our destiny is in the hands of our youngest citizens.  You can read more about the network at www.camellianetwork.org

Do you know anyone who reminds you of Victoria? or who Victoria reminds you of?

Do you have any ideas on how the child welfare system could be more respectful of the dignity of the children it was created to protect? (there’s a small question!)

Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  2011. The Language of Flowers. Ballantine books: New York.

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