Review: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Title: The Language of Flowers

Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Published: Picador  Australia September 2011

Synopsis: In The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s powerful first novel, a damaged young woman, Victoria Jones, who can only communicate through the Victorian language of flowers, goes from being homeless to a sought after wedding floral designer.  The Victorian language of flowers was used to express emotions: honeysuckle for devotion, azaleas for passion, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it has been more useful in conveying feelings like 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, Victoria has nowhere to go, and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. When her talent is discovered by a local florist, she discovers her gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But it takes meeting a mysterious vendor at the flower market for her to realise what’s been missing in her own life, and as she starts to fall for him, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

Status: Read from August 13 to 14, 2011 — I own a copy {ARE Courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia}

My Thoughts:

The product of a foster system that all too often fails the children it is designed to care for, Victoria Jones is defensive, introverted and emotionally damaged. Except for a brief period of respite in the care of Elizabeth at age ten, Victoria has never been able to trust anyone enough to temper her negative self protective behaviours and when that placement ends in tragedy Victoria is tossed back into a series of group homes and institutions. At eighteen the system releases her and ill equipped to support herself and she ends up homeless and destitute in a San Francisco park. Hungry and cold, Victoria gathers her courage to approach Renata, a florist, for some work. Flowers have a special significance for Victoria, in her time with Elizabeth she became intrigued by their symbolism and adopted them as a secret means of communication. Slowly Victoria begins to lower her defenses and her work with Renata provides her with a hope for the future she has rarely experienced. However a lifetime of insecurity and self loathing is difficult to overcome and when Victoria’s past and present collide her precarious sense of self is overwhelmed by regret and despair.
Diffenbaugh reveals Victoria’s journey by deftly weaving the story of her past and present in a series of alternating chapters. By exposing Victoria’s childhood the author ensures we have empathy for the flawed adult that that Victoria has become. Mistrustful, afraid of intimacy and full of self doubt her struggle to to overcome her psychic wounds is compelling.
The symbolism of flowers is fascinating and Diffenbaugh intergrates it seamlessly into the novel. For Victoria flowers provide a connection to the one time of her life she felt cared for and she uses the meaning of flowers to secretly communicate her emotions. She finds comfort in their unambiguous messages until she discovers their potential for dual interpretation. Her need for control manifests in the creation of her own flower dictionary which helps her to confront her own misunderstandings and her capacity for change.
The Language of Flowers is a stunning debut that captured my heart. I was entranced by the lyrical rhythm of the language, the emotional complexity of the storyline and the deeply flawed characters who bring it to life. A story of tragedy, redemption and the power of love, The Language of Flowers is a remarkable novel whose impact lingers long after the last page is turned.

About the Author

Vanessa Diffenbaugh is also the founder of the Camellia Network.  The mission of the Camellia Network is to create an American wide movement to support youth transitioning from foster care. In The Language of Flowers, Camellia [kuh-meel-yuh] means “My Destiny is in Your Hands.” The network’s name emphasizes the belief in the interconnectedness of humanity: each gift a young person receives will be accompanied by a camellia, a reminder that the destiny of our nation lies in the hands of our youngest citizens. For more information visit

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Alternate Covers

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shirley
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 09:00:26

    Good review! Looks like another to add to my must-read list! I love the UK cover!



  2. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 12:51:44

    I have this in my TBR and I’ve heard nothing but good things. I’ve been trying to hold off to get to some other reads first, but I might have to bump it up!

    I love all of the covers–which is rare for me!



  3. Leslie
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 00:01:27

    I agree… this is a great book. It will make my top 10 for this year. Loved the creative storyline. It was a book I couldn’t put down.



  4. Anuradha
    Oct 27, 2011 @ 16:43:33


  5. Judy Dibble
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 22:18:49

    I gained insight into the concept of attachment disorder that may underlie behaviours of my grandsons who were in a Texas group home for a year at ages 6 & 8, but found coincidences and characters who were willing to sacrifice their own empty emotional lives and ambitions to rehabilitate Victoria made this more like a tale of fantasy than a believable story.
    Very thought provoking.



  6. Trackback: Review: We Never Asked For Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh | book'd out

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