Book Review: The Language of Flowers


After last week's slug fest through Germs, Guns, and Steel, I couldn't wait to jump back into a fiction world. Enter The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. The blurb on the jacket says,

"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 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."

This title has languished on my list for over a year and I just happened to find it at the library.  #LibraryCardForTheWin

To whomever made me write it down on my "must read" list, THANK you!  I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

Besides the obvious fact that the story-line didn't involve understanding the living habits of Papua New Guinea,  I had to focus on why exactly the story worked:

Strong, memorable characters - Check Solid story structure - Check Interesting topic - Check

Every detail of the book flows together seamlessly. However, what impressed me most was the pacing.

I realize this a weird thing to notice, but I can't help myself. The story moved quickly, but not too fast. The descriptions were thorough, without becoming tedious.

I wasn't ever tempted to skim.

Every sentence seemed efficient, well-crafted, and on point. The result was remarkable clarity of both settings and character development. Take this simple opening paragraph from a chapter near the end of the book:

"July was crowded at the farmers' market. Strollers heaped with produce and nectarine-smeared toddlers blocked aisles, and elderly men with pushcarts waved impatient arms at distracted mothers. Under my feet, discarded pistachio shells crunched. I skipped to keep up with Elizabeth. She was making her way toward the blackberries."

Can't you just picture the market?

I was slightly agitated by the farmers' market crowd and I was only reading about them! The entirety of the book was like this. I found Diffenbaugh's descriptions of characters equally as compelling as her setting descriptions.

"...being with him felt like being forgiven. I wanted to soak it up, take it with me, face the next day a little less haunted, a little less hateful."


Time and again that's how I felt reading this book. Even the connections to flowers and human growth were insightful.

“It wasn't as if the flowers themselves held within them the ability to bring an abstract definition into physical reality. Instead, it seemed that...expecting change, and the very belief in the possibility instigated a transformation.”

On Tuesday, before finishing the book, I was telling a friend about the story and how I found myself cheering for the characters.  I remarked, "I hope the author ends up liking her characters. I really want her to take care of them."

I wanted them to do more than survive.

Considering my bias wish, mostly I was pleased with how the story went. Even so, the ending was perhaps a tad too tidy. Given the gorgeous journey of the story, this is a small criticism, but if you read the book, I think you will notice.

“If it was true that moss did not have roots, and maternal love could grow spontaneously as if from nothing, perhaps I had been wrong ... Perhaps the unattached, the unwanted, the unloved, could grow to give love as lushly as anyone else.”

Still, I can't help but recommend this novel.