The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

This was a beautiful, creative book that should have easily been a 5-star read for me, but I had some issues with the plot later on that I had to knock a star off for.

First, the good: I loved this idea of the language of flowers and how that was expertly woven into this novel. I loved the idea of building flower arrangements based on the language you wanted to convey. This totally made me rethink what I knew about flowers.

I also like that the story was told along two different timelines, the “current” timeline and the events leading up to the tragedy that happened to Victoria eight years before.

I also have to say for a first novel, this was quite excellent. The writing was absolutely beautiful and it made the book hard to put down.

Now, the bad. And from here on out, there will be spoilers:

I’m usually pretty easy going when it comes to lapses in plot logic or things that just don’t quite fit. I love reading thrillers after all and those certainly aren’t always realistic or necessarily even possible. But in this book I really, really had a problem with the portrayal of Victoria’s pregnancy. She’s eighteen years old at the beginning of the novel, nineteen or nearly nineteen when she gets pregnant. But the man who impregnates her is several years older and seems to really care about her. So why the hell was there no mention at any time of birth control? Like zip, zero, zilch. Not even a passing thought about it. It’s like the characters are existing in this weird modern San Francisco where birth control is not a thing. Even YA books these days are slipping in little bits about practicing safe sex. Regardless of what you might think about birth control, Grant should have loved this girl enough to at least ask her about it. It’s unthinkable that it’s not included.

I had a hard time placing this book in time. It seems like it should be “modern” but between the birth control thing and the fact that no one seems to have cell phones or computers, I had no idea what year it was supposed to be. I know the main character is homeless at the beginning, but what about everyone else? Victoria even visits a library, which is great, but I haven’t been to a library in America that did not have at least one computer for patron use. And this book was published in 2011 so it doesn’t have the excuse of being printed in the early 90’s before the internet.

Adding to that, Victoria literally starts up a competing flower business towards the end of the book. Nevermind the fact that Renata literally saved her from the streets and Renata’s mother and sister also heavily impacted her life. Victoria basically takes what she learned from Renata, combines it with her knowledge of the language of flowers, and sets up shop to compete against Renata. And there was no conversation in or around this, Renata just kind of disappears near the end of the book.

So, overall The Language of Flowers should have easily netted my coveted 5-stars, but some seriously plot issues derailed the book near the end and left me only able to give 4-stars overall.

2 thoughts on “The Language of Flowers

  1. Susan says:

    Since you are a more comprehensive reader than me, I feel bad for you. I loved this book. But I missed some of the details that you didn’t care for. I did not notice the lack of birth control but I’m also at an age where it’s not something that’s a part of my life any longer! Plus I didn’t think about how she was competing in her flower business with the person who helped her. So I loved this book. I too loved the comparison of flowers to the meaning each flower had in an arrangement or in a gift to someone. I have actually thought about reading it a second time but may skip it so I don’t notice it’s faults.

    • Shannon says:

      Many, many people loved this book! I got so many people who said it was one of their favorites. I think the more I read and the more I work on my own writing, the more I pick books apart and the higher I set the bar. It’s just a trend I’ve noticed with myself over the past couple years. Probably better for my writing, but less good for my reading life.

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