Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers
Title: The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 323
How I Found It: I can't remember, but I read it along with two of my best friends.
Date Completed: 10/11/16

Summary: Upon leaving the foster care system, Victoria has nothing. No job, no family, no future, it seems. Her only interest or care in the world is flowers and the Victoria language of flowers. As she attempts to turn that interest into a sustainable life, she is forced to face some tough realities about the world and about herself.

What I Thought: I really had no idea what this book was about when I started it. I wish I could remember how it came to my attention in the first place. If I could, I would go back to that source for more recommendations. I really enjoyed this one.

Victoria's story was really moving. Throughout the book, she is dealing with some major emotional and mental barriers. She has no reason to trust or love anyone, yet life without those things is more than a little challenging. After years in the foster care system, she has been seemingly stripped even of the ability to open her heart. She imagines an adulthood before her where she can exist in near isolation and be happy that way. After all, if she never opens herself to others, she can never be hurt by them. 

Upon realizing that living in the park is not going to suffice, Victoria reluctantly takes a job with a local florist. She begins to realize there may be a place for her in the world after all - a place among the flowers that she loves. As a child, Victoria was nearly adopted by a vineyard owner named Elizabeth. It was Elizabeth who taught her the language of flowers, the only language in which Victoria feels confident. The story goes back and forth between Victoria's months with Elizabeth and her present. In the present, she finds herself becoming unwittingly connected to the florist, the florist's sister and mother, and even a young flower vendor named Grant. Each relationship pushes her and stretches her, forcing her to reconcile her misanthropy with the instant, pursuing love of others.

Ultimately (spoiler alert), Victoria herself becomes a mother and much face her deepest demons head on. She feels unequipped to handle motherhood as she has never had a consistent mother figure in her life. I read this book with two of my best friends (we're forming our own mini-book club and this was the first one we read together!), and one of them astutely pointed out that every character in the book is a mother figure in some way to Victoria. Every single person demonstrates some aspect of motherhood, whether positive or negative. Really, the whole book is an exploration of what it means to be a mother, even when you feel severely under-prepared for it. 

Reading this book alongside my two sweet friends who have both become mothers fairly recently definitely gave me a different perspective on the book. They picked up on and appreciated a lot more of the nuance of the story than I did. It also helped me see things through their eyes better. Sometimes I feel the gap between their motherhood and my decision not to have kids yet particularly acutely. I don't always know how to enter into their world and, when I do, I tend to feel like a bull in a china shop, unsure of my footing and anything but graceful or comfortable (though I've never felt unwanted, because my friends are the best). Reading this book helped me understand some of their experiences better and I am so grateful for that.  

I definitely recommend this book. On the wise advice of my friends, I might hold off on it if you are a very recent new mother as the book deals directly with postpartum depression and fear of failure as a mother. The ending is optimistic; Victoria is accepted by all despite her faults and fears. The whole makeshift family is making the conscious choice to move forward together, adjusting to and accommodating each of their weaknesses. It's a beautiful picture of love and family - imperfect, but resilient in its support. 

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yeah, I might. 
If You Liked This, Try: Still Alice / Go Set a Watchman / Fates and Furies

A Reduced Review: A beautiful picture of the complexities of motherhood and how powerful unconditional love can be. Plus, it'll make you want to have fresh flowers all the time.

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