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The Language of Flowers    by Vanessa Diffenbaugh order for
Language of Flowers
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Victoria Jones, the troubled young heroine of Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers, grew up in the foster-care system, where she learned wariness and distrust of others. But she also lived through a happier interlude, under the care of Elizabeth, who gradually earned her trust and taught her how to communicate through the Victorian language of flowers. Elizabeth told Victoria, 'Your behavior is a choice; it isn't who you are.'

The story opens as Victoria is emancipated from foster care in San Francisco at age eighteen. From there it moves back and forth in time, revealing what the young woman gains in her current life, as well as a dire loss in her past. Despite being warned to prepare for a life on her own, Victoria is unready. She sleeps in 'McKinley Square, a small city park at the top of Portero Hill', where she nurtures her own plants. She scrounges food from samples at delis, and customers' leavings at busy restaurants, until her refuge is invaded by young lovers.

Over time, Victoria finds casual work with a busy florist, Renata, who finds her an inexpensive place to live. Working for Renata, she meets a vendor at the market who seems to recognize her - and who also knows the language of flowers. She returns Grant's tentative advances with wariness and hostility, warning him that she doesn't trust herself, but he persists. He gradually breaks through her barriers, but then something happens that builds them suddenly again.

Victoria has a talent for meeting people's needs with flowers that change their lives, and gradually develops a clientele for her work. That keeps her going when everything else falls apart. But we wonder what haunts her from the past and why she continues to be her own worst enemy. Of course, the author ties it all together for readers in a touching yet very credible conclusion in which Victoria dares to hope that 'Perhaps the unattached, the unwanted, the unloved, could grow to give love as lushly as anyone else.'

Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers is a most impressive debut novel. It contrasts the callousness of the foster system with the sensual appeal of flowers (Victoria's refuge) and enhances an engrossing coming-of-age-and-into-acceptance story with an education on floral communication. Don't miss it!

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