Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose

Book Review: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

"Do you really think you're the only human being alive who is unforgivably flawed? Who's been hurt almost to the point of breaking?"
After 18 years in the foster care system, Victoria believes that yes, she is the only one. And as a consequence, friendship, love, and redemption seem the stuff of fairy tales-of other people's lives.

In her debut novel, The Language of Flowers, author Vanessa Diffenbaugh takes us into a world that very few of us really know: the life of children (and the adults they touch) in foster care. In doing so she manages to steer a careful course between the opposing shoals of sermonizing and romanticizing, and guides us straight into the life of Victoria, a young woman caught up in the current.

As many of us do, Victoria tries to find the balance between swimming against the tide and simply trying to stay afloat. Neither course is entirely successful, nor is it an absolute failure. Hampered by her inability to share her feelings verbally, Victoria falls back on her second language; the symbology of flowers. Through her almost instinctive ability to see the message in her floral medium, she finds a way to reach out to a handful of fellow travelers, a lifeline out of her self-inflicted solitude. But each time she throws the rope away, knowing in her heart she does not deserve to be saved, afraid to be tied to anyone or anything.

There comes a point in your life that you find that what prevents you from moving forward is not what is in front of you - it is what is behind you. The overwhelming weight of your past can anchor you in place, and rob you of your future. Often, a series of events will bring you right back to that point you started from, and you must confront the flood of your fears all over again.

The Language of Flowers is the story of anyone that has made that journey back into the light, back into the stream of life. Sometimes you may sympathize with Victoria, at others you just want to shake some sense into her, but you can never be ambivalent about her. By title and subject Flowers may give off the scent of being "chick-lit", but there is nothing perfumed about life here - there are plenty of falls and thorns among the roses.

I don't judge books by their covers, but rather by how eager I am to pick them back up and reluctant to put them down. By all my marks, Vanessa Diffenbaugh speaks a language that I understand.

[Follow up note: Although at the time I wrote this review this book had not been officially released, I see that subsequently it did become a bestseller. Happy to hear that!].

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