The Language Of Flowers: A Novel by Vanessa DiffenbaughThe Language Of Flowers: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaughsticker-burst

The Language Of Flowers: A Novel

byVanessa Diffenbaugh

Paperback | April 3, 2012

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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. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger 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.
 
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To write The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh found inspiration in her own experience as a foster mother. After studying creative writing and education at Stanford University, Vanessa taught art and writing to youth in low-income communities. She and her husband, PK, have three children and live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Thi...
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Title:The Language Of Flowers: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 8 × 5.21 × 0.76 inPublished:April 3, 2012Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345525558

ISBN - 13:9780345525550

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Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting Read I wasn't prepared to be so sad when reading this book. I read this a year ago and the story is still stuck in my head.
Date published: 2017-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Must read This was a book I decided to give a chance to - and boy did it not disappoint. The story is interesting - the mix of history and fiction. Pure pleasure to read #plumreview
Date published: 2017-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great story! I loved this book. The characters are well-drawn and the story is so interesting. I was sorry when it came to an end. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not a lighthearted romance novel The intensity and often rawness and perplexity of the principal character's emotions at times compels you to keep reading, yet at other times makes it almost unbearable to continue. This is not a light-hearted romance novel. Its message: You can survive without love yet you cannot live without it.
Date published: 2017-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this book. Loved this book. Why? Nostalgia and the love and appreciation of flowers. A great summer (or anytime) read.
Date published: 2017-05-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Amazing book I loved this story. It was beautiful and yet at times very sad. I loved the tie-in with flowers. I am a gardener and will now incorporate some of this beautiful language into my garden and bouquets.
Date published: 2017-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable and unpredictable I enjoyed this book. The story kept me guessing and though Victoria's self sabotaging was difficult, it was also understandable and relatable. It is a good reminder that even one positive influence in a child's life, no matter how brief, can bring about resilience and change, giving them something to cling to. The ending was ultimately more loving and forgiving than I think most people would be but was a nice resolution.
Date published: 2017-03-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A memorable read I read this book when it was first released a few years ago, and I still remember the plot and loved it. I learned so much about flowers and their history and meaning. I found it very quick and easy to read, but at the same time thought provoking. I can echo some of the other comments about the main character being frustrating, but overall I did love the story and would highly recommend.
Date published: 2017-03-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Give it some time The first time I read this I wasn't sure how to feel about it, however the second and third time I read this book I came to appreciate it and the book really stuck with me. Yes, our protagonist is hard to like or even understand but after a bit of sitting and thinking, I can kind of see her point, I don't totally agree with it but I can see it. The love interest however, Grant, is the best part of this book. I also loved the parts with Elizabeth and how their relationship progressed. This is a book that requires you to give it some time and absorb it.
Date published: 2017-02-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Heart-breaking and warming at the same time I can’t remember how exactly I came to know about this book. I think it was on one of the many book lists I have seen on Pintrest and I put it on my list to search for the next time I went to a bookstore. And then one day when I was searching for the several books, I found this one. I read the back and it seemed intriguing. And I wasn’t disappointed; I read this very quickly and was thoroughly satisfied…besides some annoyances which I will note later. It should go without saying that this book was very powerful and made me emotional. I cried multiple times while reading. Beyond that, I liked the romantic aspect of the story that I wasn’t sure about. Victoria is a very strange character in that she doesn’t have any friends or family because when she has the opportunity to have either, she pushes them away, probably because she either never learned proper social protocol or because she feels she doesn’t deserve those things. If you read the book, you’d understand that the character is written in such a way that she doesn’t place any worth on herself, only on the flowers she communicates with. Her relationship with Grant, Elizabeth’s nephew, is a very unique dynamic, especially when they are on their quest to debate and decipher the language of flowers. If you’re really interested, at the back of the book is Victoria’s entire dictionary of flowers, which I thought was a really nice added touch. I also find it refreshing when an author “writes what they know.” The author teaches art and writing to youth in low-income communities and her eldest child is a former foster child. So why did this book not get an insanely high rating from me? There are two major reasons. Number one, I actually didn’t like the main character for most of the book. I understand she was meant to be damaged goods because of her past but the way she was written just made me more angry. The character just doesn’t help herself and makes her life more difficult because she thinks it has to be that way. Which I don’t think is the case… but not my book, not my character, not my rules. Next, this book doesn’t seem very long given the size, amount of pages and font size. And truth be told, as far as books go, it really wasn’t. But there did reach a certain point in the book where I just wanted it to be over. Do you know when you’re reading a book and you predict pretty much exactly what the ending is going to be because it’s so obvious but the author continues playing this run-around and drags out the story? That’s what happened with this book. Yes, I understand a lot of it has to do with character development. The problem? The character doesn’t go along with the tone and shift in the story. Regardless of these two inconveniences, the book was really great and I enjoyed it. If my description of the story above tickles your fancy, you sould read this book because I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Honestly. Sometimes the concept of a book seems really great and that’s why you read a book, right? This concept is amazing and if the general concept is interesting to you, give this one a chance.
Date published: 2016-12-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Unlikeable Heroine Maybe I read a different novel but I simply could not get into this one. I found her to be so bloody-minded and awful that I had virtually no empathy with her and just gave up - which is something I never, ever do. I seem to be a minority however and I supposed I will try again, maybe at Christmastime when I am feeling more charitable. Be prepared for a heroine you are seriously not going to like, certainly at first.
Date published: 2016-11-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Wanted to like it,,, I really wanted to like this and learning about the flowers is very interesting, but I couldn't stand the main character and that really ruined the book for me.
Date published: 2016-11-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from evoked emotion, nice ending. I enjoyed this book, it really evoked emotion in me, not necessarily a feel good emotion, but that's okay. The story line and characters where interesting and kept me turning the pages until the wee hours. Learning the characters language of flowers (meaning behind each flower) was also interesting. A worthwhile read overall.
Date published: 2015-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved iT~must read This book was so hard to out down. I loved it! Once i was coming close to the end, I was actually saddnded that this book wouldnt keep going forever. Keep fingers crossed part 2 will comeout or 5. Would love another book from this author also.
Date published: 2015-06-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Language of Flowers I too didn't have any expectations prior to reading this book. I am trying new genres of books and really enjoyed this one!
Date published: 2015-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The language of flowers Unique in every way. Deftly woven, humorous, touching. Thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end.
Date published: 2015-02-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pleasantly surprised. The Language of Flowers was chosen to read by members of my book group. After reading the description I didn't think that I would like it, however I wanted to take part in discussions so I decided to give it a try. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised because I quite liked it. Although Victoria wasn't the most likable character, the way the story was written and the language of flowers itself made up for it.
Date published: 2015-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this book! This is such a good book. The details in it regarding the meaning of flowers is so interesting and the plot kept me intrigued.
Date published: 2014-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from English Supervisor I loved it and it kept me so engaged I couldn't function at times. A wonderful story.
Date published: 2014-09-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The language of flowers It's nothing I expected from this book. In the beginning I didn't quite understand what was going on. But I soon came to love Victoria and will her back to her baby.
Date published: 2014-05-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The language of flowers This book is really touching. I did not have any expectations when i started it and at the beginning was afraid it would not be relly good but I really enjoyed it and would recommend it.
Date published: 2014-02-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The language of flowers I'm an avid reader, two or three books a week and I can say that this book is one of the best I've read lately. Excellent development of characters and able to show very difficult situations in a compassionate and intelligent way. Keep writing
Date published: 2014-01-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The language of flowers I really enjoyed this book. I had a little bit of a hard time getting into it, but once I was, it really held my attention and I really felt for the main character. I loved learning about all the different meanings for flowers and will think about it from now on when I buy flowers!
Date published: 2014-01-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The language of flowers After reading the brief synopsis on this novel, I had low expectations as did my fellow book club members as this was one of our monthly reads. I am please to say I and the rest of my group were completely incorrect. It was a great read and quite enjoyable. It’s complete with a love story, the character’s struggles and triumphs and how she communicates through flowers. It was quite interesting learning the meanings behind flowers and enjoyed the ‘flower dictionary’ at the back of the novel.
Date published: 2014-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Favorite One of the most beautifully written stories I have ever come across. I would read it again in a heartbeat.
Date published: 2014-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Language of Flowers The perfect blend of my two favourite things, flowers and a moving story.
Date published: 2013-11-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Inspirational Read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh was given to me as a gift. The novel seemed interesting at first but I was still unsure about it. However, after a few chapters, I realized that this was a very good book. Although a bit slow at first, this novel tells a magnificent story that will please any audience. As you may or may not have read in a previous post, I am not a plant person. Therefore, I was worried I would have trouble following this novel since I assumed it was only about flowers given the title. I pushed that concern aside and dove in. I quickly learned that my assumption was wrong. The only flower terms were the names of the flowers, which was not very troublesome at all thanks to Google. I did have to look up some pictures because I enjoy seeing what the flowers look like. However, it will not cause a problem if you choose not to do this. This novel was broken into four different sections. The first was based solely on flowers and the business of selling flowers. The following sections slowly lost the flower focus and moved more into Victoria, the protagonist’s, personal life. My favourite part of the novel would have to be the meaning of the different flowers, also known as the language of flowers. I found it very interesting to learn all of these different meanings and how they can be “read” as if they were telling a story. For example, Aster signifies patience and Freesia signifies lasting friendship. This book would be an interesting read for anyone, even if you have no interest in flowers. It is a motivational story of a young woman as she pushes through her life and overcomes the troubles that arise. It shows that with a little hard work, anything can be accomplished. I would recommend The Language of Flowers to anyone looking for an inspirational read.
Date published: 2013-10-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fantastic book club pick! Loved the characters! Themes crisscross between timelines and characters. Definitely gave us lots to discuss!
Date published: 2013-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Language of Flowers Loved, loved, loved this book!
Date published: 2013-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating! Elegantly written, beautifully executed, and a complete joy to read. Despite the fact that the heroine is not especially likable, you find yourself rooting for her and for her to succeed. And, as the book comes to an end, you have hope for her and her future. I can't wait for Diffenbaugh's next book!
Date published: 2013-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Time flies by us... if we wallow in regret. A pretty quick read, but a good one. I liked how she jumped from future to past, revealing it all in pieces. I completely recommend this book for a good, inspirational read:) leaning about meaning in flowers was neat-I honestly had no idea there were so many meanings!
Date published: 2013-07-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hazel Loved how flowers were used to communicate feelings. Great story of family and romantic love.
Date published: 2013-06-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from How Have I Never Heard of Such an Amazing Book. I was hooked from the very first page riding a roller coaster filled with constant emotion. I don't thing Vanessa missed a single feeling as we got to travel with the Victoria. As she journeyed to find her truth there were surprises and shocks around every corner. A coming of age, love story that at times read like a suspense novel. enjoyed rooting for this underdog whom now lives in a special place in my heart. In fact each character is special in their own way and I will mourn them all. I found myself wishing I had had had the chance to be mothered by Elizabeth as a child flaws with her flaws and all. Sequel? I look forward to whatever comes next. I wouldn't have changed a thing....but made it go on and on.
Date published: 2013-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How Have I Never Heard of Such an Amazing Book. I was hooked from the very first page riding a roller coaster filled with constant emotion. I don't thing Vanessa missed a single feeling as we got to travel with the Victoria. As she journeyed to find her truth there were surprises and shocks around every corner. A coming of age, love story that at times read like a suspense novel. enjoyed rooting for this underdog whom now lives in a special place in my heart. In fact each character is special in their own way and I will mourn them all. I found myself wishing I had had had the chance to be mothered by Elizabeth as a child flaws with her flaws and all. Sequel? I look forward to whatever comes next. I wouldn't have changed a thing....but made it go on and on.
Date published: 2013-02-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Easy Breezy This book is an easy and entertaining read. Couldn't put it down and the idea of communicating through flowers is simply fascinating.
Date published: 2013-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read I love this book and would recommend to all my friends!
Date published: 2013-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Such a Good Read A book you don't want to put down! You feel so involved with the characters. Well worth it!
Date published: 2013-01-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Language of Flowers: A Review from The Bibliotaphe Closet Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut novel is storytelling with ease. The writing is clear, but what is most beautiful to discover in this book is indeed the language of flowers and their meaning as originally dated back to the Victorian era. The writing is neither lyrical, nor poetic as its subject matter of flowers, their beauty or their bloom, but direct in a clear style of its author and personality of the book’s main character, Victoria Jones. She is sufficiently plain as her name, if only for her dire circumstances due to the nature of her birth and upbringing. In this, she is quite extraordinary, having no choice, but to be orphaned, having to grow up for most of her childhood in foster homes as a child belonging to the state of California and transplanted from home to home until her eighteenth birthday by Meredith Combs, her disgruntled and exasperated social worker. The number of times the main character has moved from placement to placement does not speak as harshly to her flaws as it does to the abuse and often the neglect by the foster care system that inhibits her. This regular pattern of neglect and nomadic instability proves to harden Victoria Jones against trust, love, and affection in relationships to the point of disliking physical touch. Ironically, Victoria’s hardness, which is a result of her feelings of inadequacy and failure as a child who is both unwanted and unloved, is a later source of her strength and survival as an adult. The novel is primarily about the relationship of motherhood in its varying forms as depicted in the characters that surround Victoria Jones. From Elizabeth Anderson’s maternal love for Victoria as a child, Grant Hasting’s paternal love for his mentally ill mother, Catherine, Renata’s distant, yet protective professionalism, Mother Ruby’s over-saturated nurturing, Victoria’s indirect maternal instinct towards her lovesick cliental searching for messages and answers in the flowers they seek, and her overwhelming love, yet quick incapacity to care for her newborn infant. This and the yearning for love, a fierce competition for it against the restraints of a character who is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with its social nuances, and the need for reconciliation with the past, is what this book is about. Though the story moves with ease to convince you of its interesting plot and curiosity enough to advocate for the main character, the characters seemed somewhat unbelievable in their polarity. They are to me what perhaps a reader wishes a character to be, rather than a true reflection of what people are really like. I don’t know, perhaps I am too harsh in judging the cold and emotionally inept girl who is naturally drawn to flowers or the exaggerated characters who are her counterparts. To read the rest of my review, you may visit my blog, The Bibliotaphe's Closet: http://zaraalexis.wordpress.com/2011/12/24/the-language-of-flowers-wolfsbane-to-hazel/
Date published: 2012-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent book I loved the characters in this book and the way they each help shape Victoria's life for better or for worse. This was a book I couldn't put down as the end of one chapter keeps you wanting to know more. I also was glad the author put a lexicon in the back explaining the meaning of each flower as I did use it when a reference to a flower was made. I highly recommend this book.
Date published: 2012-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Language of Flowers I absolutely loved this novel. The author was able to tell a tale of human suffering in a very moving way. I so enjoyed learning all the meanings that the Victorians gave to flowers. For professionals in the teaching field or those in the social services domain I would say they would gain experience from reading this book. Looking forward to more from this first time author.
Date published: 2012-07-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sweet smelling love story A story of people who have been hurt and knocked about in life who against all odds manage to foster a relationship. What kept me most engaged was the unique way in which they communicated and how each flower has a meaning.
Date published: 2012-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiration Wow... I don't even know how to put this book into words. It was a page-turner that made my heart break over and over again for this young girl. It is a life that no one could ever imagine but the beautiful writing of Vanessa Diffenbaugh really brings this story to life. This is an inspiring story to show the difference that an adult can make in a child's life.
Date published: 2012-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfection! I absolutely adored this book. Perhaps because I am a hopeless romantic and this brought to life a beautiful story which I have yet to uncover in all my years of reading. I have always adored flowers and this, even if a fiction, brought a new perspective of interpreting flowers and the beauty it can bring to one's life. This book has brought about the gift of flowers and what they bring to someone's life into a whole new light and perspective. The author has written a story that is truly delightful. The characters are deep, troubled and flawed so much as to stir such deep emotions that make one want to reach into the book and shake sense into them! It was enthralling and written with such precision that one would not know how it would end. I was lefting hoping throughout and it inspired me to find that again. Beautiful.
Date published: 2011-12-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The flowers were the redeeming quality On the positive side, I really enjoyed learning about flowers, their meanings, and the wonderful effects they have on the main character, Victoria, and the people in her life. On the negative side, Victoria is deeply flawed. The author didn't push this reader enough to sympathize with Victoria, and so I felt more and more annoyed by the blantant disregard she had for her own well-being. If I had "cared" for Victoria more, I would have rated this book higher. I think it is a worthwhile read for an education regarding the language of flowers; but that's about it.
Date published: 2011-12-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from learned the meaning of flowers This is an emotional book of an unwanted child and her journey to try to find herself. This is a book filled with pain and anguish but it does have the beauty of floral language.Victoria does bring a lot of trouble to herself and is afraid of basic human emotion, love and trust. She does find her inner peace and comfort when she is with her flowers.
Date published: 2011-12-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from White roses and Moss A sensitive look into a woman discovery of what love and family means to her undefined self. This book was an easy read that grabbed at my emotions and kept me coming back to the book whenever I had a free moment to spare.
Date published: 2011-11-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Solid Read A decent work of fiction that revolves around the Victorian language of flowers (using flowers to send messages). Set in present day, Victoria Jones spent her life throughout the foster care system and then at age 18 she is emancipated from it and ends up sleeping in parks. Her talents for selecting flowers is soon discovered by a florist, and through that, a story of her past is interwoven with new discoveries of old occurrences. It wasn't my absolute favourite book I've read this year, but as a first novel, Vanessa Diffenbaugh definitely sets the bar high for herself. Would recommend this if you're looking for a quick read, as it is an interesting story.
Date published: 2011-09-17

Read from the Book

1.For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose. Even so, the moment my mattress started to burn, I bolted awake. The sharp, chemical smell was nothing like the hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Indian and Carolina jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused.Standing in the middle of the room, I located the source of the fire. A neat row of wooden matches lined the foot of the bed. They ignited, one after the next, a glowing picket fence across the piped edging. Watching them light, I felt a terror unequal to the size of the flickering flames, and for a paralyzing moment I was ten years old again, desperate and hopeful in a way I had never been before and would never be again.But the bare synthetic mattress did not ignite like the thistle had in late October. It smoldered, and then the fire went out.It was my eighteenth birthday.In the living room, a row of fidgeting girls sat on the sagging couch. Their eyes scanned my body and settled on my bare, unburned feet. One girl looked relieved; another disappointed. If I’d been staying another week, I would have remembered each expression. I would have retaliated with rusty nails in the soles of shoes or small pebbles in bowls of chili. Once, I’d held the end of a glowing metal clothes hanger to a sleeping roommate’s shoulder, for an offense less severe than arson.But in an hour, I’d be gone. The girls knew this, every one.From the center of the couch, a girl stood up. She looked young—?fifteen, sixteen at most—and was pretty in a way I didn’t see much of: good posture, clear skin, new clothes. I didn’t immediately recognize her, but when she crossed the room there was something familiar about the way she walked, arms bent and aggressive. Though she’d just moved in, she was not a stranger; it struck me that I’d lived with her before, in the years after Elizabeth, when I was at my most angry and violent.Inches from my body, she stopped, her chin jutting into the space between us.“The fire,” she said evenly, “was from all of us. Happy birthday.”Behind her, the row of girls on the couch squirmed. A hood was pulled up, a blanket wrapped tighter. Morning light flickered across a line of lowered eyes, and the girls looked suddenly young, trapped. The only ways out of a group home like this one were to run away, age out, or be institutionalized. Level 14 kids weren’t adopted; they rarely, if ever, went home. These girls knew their prospects. In their eyes was nothing but fear: of me, of their housemates, of the life they had earned or been given. I felt an unexpected rush of pity. I was leaving; they had no choice but to stay.I tried to push my way toward the door, but the girl stepped to the side, blocking my path.“Move,” I said.A young woman working the night shift poked her head out of the kitchen. She was probably not yet twenty, and more terrified of me than any of the girls in the room.“Please,” she said, her voice begging. “This is her last morning. Just let her go.”I waited, ready, as the girl before me pulled her stomach in, fists clenched tight. But after a moment, she shook her head and turned away. I walked around her.I had an hour before Meredith would come for me. Opening the front door, I stepped outside. It was a foggy San Francisco morning, the concrete porch cool on my bare feet. I paused, thinking. I’d planned to gather a response for the girls, something biting and hateful, but I felt strangely forgiving. Maybe it was because I was eighteen, because, all at once, it was over for me, that I was able to feel tenderness toward their crime. Before I left, I wanted to say something to combat the fear in their eyes.Walking down Fell, I turned onto Market. My steps slowed as I reached a busy intersection, unsure of where to go. Any other day I would have plucked annuals from Duboce Park, scoured the overgrown lot at Page and Buchanan, or stolen herbs from the neighborhood market. For most of a decade I’d spent every spare moment memorizing the meanings and scientific descriptions of individual flowers, but the knowledge went mostly unutilized. I used the same flowers again and again: a bouquet of marigold, grief; a bucket of thistle, misanthropy; a pinch of dried basil, hate. Only occasionally did my communication vary: a pocketful of red carnations for the judge when I realized I would never go back to the vineyard, and peony for Meredith, as often as I could find it. Now, searching Market Street for a florist, I scoured my mental dictionary.After three blocks I came to a liquor store, where paper-wrapped bouquets wilted in buckets under the barred windows. I paused in front of the store. They were mostly mixed arrangements, their messages conflicting. The selection of solid bouquets was small: standard roses in red and pink, a wilting bunch of striped carnations, and, bursting from its paper cone, a cluster of purple dahlias. Dignity. Immediately, I knew it was the message I wanted to give. Turning my back to the angled mirror above the door, I tucked the flowers inside my coat and ran.I was out of breath by the time I returned to the house. The living room was empty, and I stepped inside to unwrap the dahlias. The flowers were perfect starbursts, layers of white-tipped purple petals unfurling from tight buds of a center. Biting off an elastic band, I detangled the stems. The girls would never understand the meaning of the dahlias (the meaning itself an ambiguous statement of encouragement); even so, I felt an unfamiliar lightness as I paced the long hall, slipping a stem under each closed bedroom door.The remaining flowers I gave to the young woman who’d worked the night shift. She was standing by the kitchen window, waiting for her replacement.“Thank you,” she said when I handed her the bouquet, confusion in her voice. She twirled the stiff stems between her palms.Meredith arrived at ten o’clock, as she’d told me she would. I waited on the front porch, a cardboard box balanced on my thighs. In eighteen years I’d collected mostly books: the Dictionary of Flowers and Peterson Field Guide to Pacific States Wildflowers, both sent to me by Elizabeth a month after I left her home; botany textbooks from libraries all over the East Bay; thin paperback volumes of Victorian poetry stolen from quiet bookstores. Stacks of folded clothes covered the books, a collection of found and stolen items, some that fit, many that did not. Meredith was taking me to The Gathering House, a transitional home in the Outer Sunset. I’d been on the waiting list since I was ten.“Happy birthday,” Meredith said as I put my box on the backseat of her county car. I didn’t say anything. We both knew that it might or might not have been my birthday. My first court report listed my age as approximately three weeks; my birth date and location were unknown, as were my biological parents. August 1 had been chosen for purposes of emancipation, not celebration.I slunk into the front seat next to Meredith and closed the door, waiting for her to pull away from the curb. Her acrylic fingernails tapped against the steering wheel. I buckled my seat belt. Still, the car did not move. I turned to face Meredith. I had not changed out of my pajamas, and I pulled my flannel-covered knees up to my chest and wrapped my jacket around my legs. My eyes scanned the roof of Meredith’s car as I waited for her to speak.“Well, are you ready?” she asked.I shrugged.“This is it, you know,” she said. “Your life starts here. No one to blame but yourself from here on out.”Meredith Combs, the social worker responsible for selecting the stream of adoptive families that gave me back, wanted to talk to me about blame.

Bookclub Guide

1.  A Conversation with Kate Penn and Vanessa DiffenbaughKate Penn is the editor-in-chief of Floral Management Magazine, pub- lished by the Society of American Florists.Kate Penn: What was your inspiration for this novel?Vanessa Diffenbaugh: I started with the idea of writing a novel about the foster-care system. I’d been a foster parent for many years, and I felt it was an experience that had not been described well or often. The same sensationalized stories appear in the media over and over again: violent kids, greedy parents, the occasional hor- rific child death or romanticized adoption—but the true story of life inside the system is much more complicated and emotional. Foster children and foster parents, like children and adults everywhere, are trying to love and be loved, and to do the best they can with the emo- tional and material resources they have. With Victoria, I wanted to create a character that people could connect with on an emotional level—at her best and at her worst—which I hoped would give readers a deeper understanding of the challenges of growing up in foster care.Kate: I found it fascinating that someone like Victoria, who is so hardened on the outside, is able to find solace in something as soft and sensitive as flowers—yet it was believable. What was your inspi- ration for her character?Vanessa: The hardest part of writing this novel was finding the right balance in Victoria’s character. I wanted her to be tough, distrustful, and full of anger: all characteristics that would be true to her his- tory of being abandoned at birth and never knowing love. But I also wanted the reader to root for her—to understand her capacity to be gentle and loving, even before Victoria understands it herself. So in the first fifty pages of the novel she spends much of her time nurturing plants: smoothing petals, checking moisture, and cradling shocked roots. This felt like the perfect way to show both sides of her character, long before it would have been possible for me to describe her displaying affection or kindness toward another human being.Kate: There are so many heart-wrenching chapters in Victoria’s life: when she sets the fields on fire after having made so much progress with Elizabeth; when she gives up her baby because she feels un- worthy of her love. Were these heart-wrenching to write, or do you separate yourself from your characters?Vanessa: They were very hard to write—the scenes with the baby es- pecially. The majority of this novel flew out of me; I wrote five or six pages a day, even when I only had a few hours to work. But the scenes with the baby were different. I could often write only a sentence or two before I had to go and lie down. It was intense to be inside the head of a woman on the verge of neglecting her own child, yet telling this part of Victoria’s story felt essential to me. I had recently become a new mother myself, and I understood the challenge of caring for a newborn even within the context of a supportive family. Because of this, it was easy for me to imagine the overwhelming emotions of trying to parent completely alone, as Victoria attempts to do, and I wanted the reader to feel these emotions as well. Victoria wants desperately to be a good mother, but she lacks the support, re- sources, and self-confidence to succeed. The result is heartbreaking, as it is for so many women who find themselves unable to care for their children. It is my belief that we could prevent much child abuse and neglect in our country if we understood the intense challenge of motherhood and offered more support to women who want to love and care for their families.Kate: You clearly love and appreciate flowers—but do you have a favorite?Vanessa: I do love flowers—and it’s hard to choose just one! My favorites vary with the season and the occasion. I have flowers that I adore visually (anemone) and others I favor for their meaning (gentian: intrinsic worth). But here are my all-time favorites: cherry blossoms (the combination of exquisite beauty and fleeting imper- manence always takes my breath away), tulips (the vivid colors; the way they continue to grow even when cut, as if they are reaching out to declare their love), and ranunculus (the red, orange, and pink combined—I don’t think anything could be more radiant).Kate: Mother Ruby plays a small but important role in the novel, and I found her absolutely enchanting. Tell me about your inspira- tion for her, and why she is important to the story.Vanessa: With a debut novel, readers are often curious about what aspects of the book are based on the author’s own life; Mother Ruby and Victoria’s home birth are two of the aspects of the book that feel the most personal. My first child was born at home, and I had a phenomenal midwife. She had been delivering babies for almost three decades when I met her, and her intuition—her ability to know exactly what to do and say to support a healthy delivery—was astounding. There’s a line in my book where Mother Ruby says: “You’re the only one that can get this baby out.” This is something my midwife said to me during my labor, and it was a turning point in my delivery. There are so few moments in life like this: when you’re faced with a challenge that you, and you alone, have the ability to solve. But giving birth, especially at home, far from the accou- trements of modern medicine, is one of them. In that moment I understood that it was just me and my body, and I knew I had to get it done. When it came to writing Victoria’s birth scene, this moment felt right not just for the birth but as a turning point for her charac- ter. There were so many things she was trying to avoid, and, finally, here was one thing she had no choice but to face. Then, when she saw that she was capable of the task before her, it changed something inside her in a very permanent way.Kate: There are parts of the novel—particularly when Victoria works with Renata and then develops her own client base—that sug- gest that flowers have an almost magical power, the ability to help someone discover her unique gifts, or even achieve her dreams. Was this your intent—and do you think flowers indeed have a magical power?Vanessa: The power of flowers has been well documented: A study from Rutgers University shows that flowers increase feelings of en- joyment and satisfaction, and Harvard researchers found that people feel less anxious and more compassionate in the presence of flowers. But I never meant for the flowers in my book to be seen as magical. I believe that Victoria’s success comes from her ability to listen, ask questions, and help her customers identify exactly what they are looking for in their lives. Earl, for example, comes into Bloom asking for flowers that will make his wife “happy”—but when pressed, he re- alizes it isn’t happiness at all that he’s looking for, but rather con- nection and communication. So many people walk around with a vague feeling of discontentment without ever understanding what it is that’s making them feel dissatisfied. Through her conversations with her customers, Victoria helps them become clear about what it is they want in their lives. The bouquets she creates for them are physical manifestations of these desires, and when customers leave her shop with flowers in their hands, they do so believing change to be imminent. In my experience, it is this belief that has the power to transform lives.Kate: I so want to believe that children who are raised in the foster- care system, under less than ideal circumstances, possibly suffering from attachment disorder, can eventually learn to love themselves and others, as Victoria does. Based on your experience fostering chil- dren, can this happen? If so, what does it take?Vanessa: I absolutely believe they can, and there is new research that offers proof it is possible. For many years, severe attachment disor- ders were thought of almost like a life sentence. Study after study il- lustrated that early relationships between caregivers and infants actually shape the circuits of the brain and lay the foundation for later developmental outcomes—from academic performance and in- terpersonal skills to physical and mental health. But new research out of the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University shows that the brain retains its ability to change far into life. Learn- ing to securely attach at any time in one’s life—to a caregiver (as Vic- toria does with Elizabeth) or even to a partner (as Victoria does with Grant)—has the ability to “rewire” circuits in the brain. This is hope- ful research for those like Victoria, who are determined to overcome the trauma they have experienced and learn to love themselves and others.Kate: Do you have any particular hopes about what readers might take away from the book, or how reader perspectives, actions, and attitudes might change as a result of experiencing Victoria’s journey? That readers will turn to flowers to communicate their feelings? Or have more empathy and understanding of individuals in the foster care system?Vanessa: Yes, both! I’ve heard so many readers say they will never look at flowers the same way again, and I certainly felt this way after learning about the Victorian language of flowers. It has been such a fun discovery for me. Sending a message through flowers—especially now, when technology has made most communication instant and digital—feels extremely satisfying. Of course, not all my readers will feel this way (and some will never forgive me for attaching a negative definition to their favorite flower!) but I do hope that many find as much joy in giving and receiving message-laden flowers as I have.In terms of foster care, I have already seen an incredible out- pouring of support for young people transitioning out of the sys- tem. Readers all over the country have connected with Victoria’s journey and want to know what they can do to help. In an attempt to harness this generosity of spirit, I have helped to launch a nonprofit organization, Camellia Network. The mission of Camellia Network is to activate networks of citizens in every community to provide the critical support young people need to transition from foster care to adulthood. We are specifically reaching out to book clubs, because we believe that small groups of concerned citizens have the power to change outcomes for youth emancipating in their communities. Visit our website (www.camellianetwork.org) to get more details about how you can help.2. Review by Paula McLainPaula McLain is the New York Times best-selling author of The Paris Wife. She grew up in Fresno, California where, after being abandoned by both parents, she spent fourteen years in the foster-care system. A graduate of the MFA program at the University of Michigan, she has taught literature and creative writing for many years, and cur- rently lives with her children in Cleveland, Ohio.I feel it’s only fair to warn you, dear reader, that Vanessa Diffen- baugh’s central character, Victoria Jones, is going to break your heart three ways from Sunday. She’s also going to make you want to pick her up, shake her, and scream, why can’t you let yourself be happy? But for Victoria, the answer is as complex as the question is simple. She’s spent her childhood ricocheting through countless foster and group homes, and the experience has left her in pieces. Painfully isolated and deeply mistrustful, she cares only about flowers and their mean- ings. She herself is like a thistle, a wall of hard-earned thorns.When we first encounter Victoria, it’s the day of her eman- cipation from foster care, her eighteenth birthday. Emancipation couldn’t be a more ironic word for this moment. For Victoria, as for most foster-care survivors—myself included—freedom really means free fall. She has nowhere to go, no resources, no one who cares about her. She ends up sleeping in a public park, tending a garden of pil- fered blossoms and living on her wits. Only when a local florist sees Victoria’s special way with flowers is she given a means to survive.But survival is just the beginning. The more critical question is, will Victoria let herself love and be loved?The storyline weaves skillfully between the heavy burden of Victoria’s childhood—her time with Elizabeth, the foster mother who taught her the language of flowers and also wounded her more deeply than Victoria can bear to remember—and the gauntlet of her present relationship with Grant, a flower vendor who’s irrevocably linked to the darkest secret of her past. At its core, The Language of Flowers is a meditation on redemption, and on how even the most profoundly damaged might learn to forgive and be forgiven. By opening up Victoria’s very difficult inner world to us, Vanessa Diff- enbaugh shows us a corner of experience hidden to most, with an astonishing degree of insight and compassion. So hold on, and keep the tissue box nearby. This is a book you won’t soon forget.3. Questions for Discussion1. What potential do Elizabeth, Renata, and Grant see in Victoria that she has a hard time seeing in herself?2. While Victoria has often been hungry and malnourished in her life, food ends up meaning more than just nourishment to her. What significance does food take on in the book?3. Victoria and Elizabethbeth struggle with the idea of being par tof a family. What does it mean to you to be part of a family? What defines family?4. Why do you think Elizabeth waits so long before trying to patch things up with her long-lost sister Catherine? What is the impetus for her to do so?5. The first week after her daughter’s birth goes surprisingly well for Victoria. What makes Victoria feel unable to care for her child after that week ends? And what allows her to ultimately rejoin her family?6. One of the themes of the book is the idea of forgiveness, of second chances—do you think Victoria deserves a second chance after the things she did (both as a child and as an adult)? What about Catherine? And Elizabeth?7. What did you think of the structure of the book—the alternating chapters in the past and the present? In what ways did the two storylines parallel each other, and how did they diverge?8. The novel touches on many themes (love, family, forgiveness, second chances). Which do you think is the most important? And what did you think was ultimately the book’s lesson?9. At the end of the novel, Victoria learns that moss grows with- out roots. What does this mean, and why is it such a revelation for her?10. Based on your reading of the novel, what are your impressions of the foster-care system in America? What could be improved?11. Knowing what you now know about the language of flowers, to whom would you send a bouquet, and what would you want it to say?

Editorial Reviews

“Instantly entrancing.”—Elle   “[An] original and brilliant first novel . . . a mesmerizing storyteller . . . I would like to hand Vanessa Diffenbaugh a bouquet of bouvardia (enthusiasm), gladiolus (you pierce my heart) and lisianthus (appreciation). . . . And there is one more sprig I should add to her bouquet: a single pink carnation (I will never forget you).”—Brigitte Weeks, The Washington Post   “A captivating novel in which a single sprig of rosemary speaks louder than words . . . The Language of Flowers deftly weaves the sweetness of newfound love with the heartache of past mistakes. . . . [It] will certainly change how you choose your next bouquet.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune   “Fascinating . . . Diffenbaugh clearly knows both the human heart and her plants, and she keeps us rooting for the damaged Victoria.”—O: The Oprah Magazine (book of the week)   “Diffenbaugh effortlessly spins this enchanting tale, making even her prickly protagonist impossible not to love.”—Entertainment Weekly   “Compelling . . . immensely engaging . . . unabashedly romantic . . . an emotional arc of almost unbearable poignance.”—The Boston Globe