Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

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 communicating 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's forced to confront a painful secret from her past, and decide whether it's worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. "The Language of Flowers" is a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about the meaning of flowers, the meaning of family, and the meaning of love.

Did you know? The Language of Flowers  is a debut novel which sparked a major international bidding war.  It sold at auction for over 1 million in the US (!)  ~ and for a six-figure sum in the UK and Commonwealth.

So, you know, I was dying excited to dig into my copy :D

Let me tell you a bit about it ... The blurb gives an awesome synopsis (see above). The story itself alternates between the present and the past,  a chapter at a time. 

In the present, Victoria is eighteen, jobless, homeless and sleeping in a park. She manages to get a job working for a florist (she knows flowers, in an obsessed kind of way :) She is reserved, quietly spunky and rather unlike any protagonist I have read for a while. She is not bitter and hardened by the system, but she is ever-so-guarded.

In the past, we see snatches of Victoria's childhood. In particular, her time spent as a ten year old with a carer, Elizabeth, who loved her. But something went horribly/catastrophically/spectacularly wrong (ie Victoria did something unforgivable... ).  The secret and mysteries of the past unfold in layers, subtle yet compelling.

In the present, there is also a guy ...  ;)

This guy, Grant, gets under Victoria's skin. And he is more than just a romantic interest. He is completely tied up in her past. Dun, dun, dun... 

As for how I enjoyed the book? It's gorgeously written. I love literary fiction, and Diffenbaugh knows how to turn a phrase and how to capture your senses and breathe life into her characters.  It's a lovely combination of a slow-burning character arc kind of book, while at the same time building the plot in such a way that at the end of each chapter you want to keep following the story to see what happens next (there's a bundle of secrets, and some foreshadowing that lets you know all is not going to go well.)

I am also a sucker for stories of redemption. They get me every time. Take a character who is broken, rejected, hurting and slowly, ever-so-gently offer them forgiveness and hope and a future and I always feel it on their behalf. Victoria's journey was at times painful to watch. She makes some bad decisions (O.o) and the present time spans around 18 months (and she goes through a lot. No spoilers but I loved the turn of events. Very addictive reading). However, this is ultimately a story of hope and love and it is never melodramatic (even in it's moments of drama) but rather feels triumphant and genuine.

The thing, I guess, that sets this apart (to cause that insane bidding scene) ~ is the whole flower thing. I am not a flower type of person but reading this opened up a whole other world for me. Flowers play a huge, shining role in the story (there is even a Dictionary of Flowers in the back) and they are richly described (you can nearly smell them through the pages), and the history and meanings are completely fascinating. Such an awesome premise, hey. 

I really enjoyed reading this story, and had many moments of quiet awe. 

Recommended: For lovers of flowers (seriously, this is like, flower-heaven in a book), for fans of YA crossovers (Victoria is 18), for fans of literary contemporary fiction and ~ for your mum ;) I completely enjoyed the time I spent with 'The Language of Flowers' and I am am quietly excited to see how it fares once it it released.

Is it worth the hype/buzz? It didn't blow me away/shatter me to pieces or become an absolute favourite, but I had a really good time reading it and absolutely recommend it :)

The Language of Flowers will be available from September 1 in Australia

The Language of Flowers @ Pan Macmillan
The Language of Flowers @ goodreads

What do you think of the cover? At first I didn't even notice the girl's profile (now it is so obvious I don't know what I was thinking, haha). I really like it. It's kind of literary but also fresh and a tiny bit funky with the title font.

About the author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh was born and raised in California. She has degrees in Creative Writing and Art Education from Stanford University. She is an activist and has worked in non-profits with "at risk" youth, including homeless and foster youth. She and her husband have three children, Graciela, Miles, and Tre'von and live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan for sending this lovely book my way <3

Some international covers 


  1. Lots of pretty covers for this one. I'm going with the UK cover as my favourite as I just got it in the post and it is simply gorgeous!

    I'm looking forward to reading this one. I remember reading about the huge bidding war a while back while I made a note of the book, I hadn't read much about it until now. On reading the synopsis I was instantly reminded of Astrid from White Oleander, which is one of my all time favourite books.

    Have you read White Oleander? Did this one remind you of it at all? (Character wise).

  2. This sounds like one I'd enjoy, I love stories of redemption too. The 'flower' element reminds me of Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount White. Have you read it?
    Great review as always Nomes :)

  3. OK this has gone straight on the wishlist. I love stories of redemption too, and I also enjoy flashbacks. But the whole flowers thing does sound really unique and intriguing, I'm really interested now! Fantastic review.

  4. What sold at auction of over 1 million? A copy of the book or the original manuscript?

  5. Even with your gorgeous review I'm not hugely excited for this one. I'm not sure why because it does sound very me - maybe the flowers are putting me off :-) If I see it I'll probably read the first couple of pages and see if it sucks me in.

  6. Great review - I didn't pick the woman's profile in the cover for awhile either! I'll be really interested to see how popular this ends up being once released, I reckon it's going to become a book club fave for sure.

  7. Why do you always have like... the perfect book for me?Ooh, and a non-paranormal in an intl auction? Wowzers, that's pretty amazing.
    Awesome review as usual, I've never heard of this book before :/ But I am remedy-ing it soon, I can't ignore those stories of redemption either. plus upper YA (ish?)! It's on my wishlist, thanks!!

  8. I think this is the first review I've seen of this one! Had no idea there was an international bidding war over it O_O I'm always on the lookout for those books with crossover appeal, featuring older YA characters (there aren't enough of them!) The Language of Flowers sounds like a rewarding read for character development as well as writing style. Thanks for giving me a better sense of what to expect, Nomes!

  9. How is it that you always know about this bidding wars. You educate me so much on book trivia. Thanks for that, Nomes.

    And ha, I didn't notice the profile in the cover until you pointed it out and then I had to scroll back up to check it out and yup, pretty obvious. LOL

  10. Oh that cover is made of lovely stuff! I do love it when books have these sorts of central themes running through them. I'll be keeping a beady eye out for this one!

  11. Oh, this sounds quite amazing.

    I love the whole idea of the language of flowers; I used to study it as a girl - my gran made me read etiquette books when I was little, and the old fashioned ones cover what flowers mean and what type you should send to someone according to your relationship with them.

    Anyway, I'm not a fan of literary fiction; but I love the idea of this one!

    Thanks for sharing, as I hadn't heard of it.

  12. I have already told you this but this review is gorgeous. You might be in a reading funk but you still know how to write amazing reviews that make me want to buy more books!

    I love the cover with the white flowers. Simple and beautiful :)

  13. A lovely review, I think I would enjoy this one and am quite curious abut the mystery surrounding Victoria's past.

  14. It sounds so good!
    And all the foreign covers look amazing. :D Great review!

  15. My daughter,through serendipity, is the girl on the British and Italian covers (Scandinavian and Croatian too).
    Check out these beautiful book trailers:

  16. Wow, this one wasn't even on my radar! But it is now. It sounds awesome.

  17. I read this review a few days ago and forgot to comment! It sounds really good and I love flowers. I have a feeling this would be right up my alley. Awesome review as always.

  18. Lovely review - I'm definitely interested in reading this if I can. I love books that are a bit different, and I'll admit the concept of flowers holding so much significance is one that I've always found pretty cool :)

    Thanks for posting about it!

  19. Thanks for the review.
    My publisher gushed to me about this novel a few months ago, but this is the first review I've read from a critic. It sounds beautiful and literate but I don't consider myself much of a flower person. Would this indifference hurt the reading experience? Is the story (apart from the flower stuff) compelling?

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  21. After reading a few pages of this book, I was not sure that I would be able to finish. I rarely give up on a book but...I disliked Victoria so intensely I didn't think I could continue but then....the flowers came into her life and slowly I began to like her. As she began to apply the language of flowers, her world began to open up and she began to like herself a little which made her more likeable as a character. I realized that we aren't supposed to always love Victoria..she is flawed and broken from a life of being in foster care. This is the foster care system in full view...all the flaws and very little good. We learn how an ordinary child can be lose the ability to communicate and interact with the world. It is beyond heartbreaking and so real that it is hard to read.


Thanks for the commenty love :)