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Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

This was February's book club choice. I had to purchase it (used) in order to actually have it available, since the queue with the library was ridiculously long. I have a bad habit, though, of NOT reading books I actually *own*. It's a ridiculous habit, I know.

The library upped the ante of me not successfully reading this one as scheduled. I had been on the waiting list for two books since August of last year: The Age of Miracles and Let's Pretend this Never Happened. I also had checked out books for my kids, who didn't end up reading which I wanted to read them. Love, Ruby Lavender was one and the other has been hard to get to from the library, Why We Broke Up.

I was very tempted to read the library books before this one because I tend to freak out over books being overdue. I mean, I end up with overdue books but I worry about them constantly. It's like a dark cloud over me until I feel the satisfaction of turning them in. I like to be "on-time", or at the very least, *not* overdue. So the prospect of putting February's book club choice off, just so I could read the checked out books before their due date, was reeling in my mind as I wrapped up Love, Ruby Lavender.

In the end, I settled on my goal of 2013 which was to be more active in book club and I accepted the notion of being overdue (books that have a long wait list, such as The Age of Miracles and Let's Pretend this Never Happened are unlikely to be renewed, so the pressure is on to read these before my anxious mind deals with due dates).


Wow. What a wonderful, wonderful novel. From the first written pages, I realized I was dealing with a writer who wrote beautiful pages. It reminded me of reading Jane Eyre and just falling in love with the words, the prose. When I 'meet' a novel like this, I reflect on how amazing writers can be -- how much artistry is behind writing...and how I could never envision myself writing like this. Ever.

It didn't take me long to finish this one as, much like Jane Eyre, I took this book everywhere with me.

We meet the protagonist, Victoria Jones, as she moves out of a group home. It's her 18th birthday and life as an "orphan" has ended. Legally. She gets the opportunity to live in a halfway house for a few months, to find a job and get on her feet, but she squanders that opportunity by not looking for a job.

She ends up homeless, sleeping in a park, under bushes, where she has planted a garden of her own. Flowers, plants, the reader finds that Victoria knows a lot about the language that flowers have. Giving yellow roses meant "Infidelity" and rhododendron meant "Beware", a stem she gives to the mysterious flower vendor at the farmer's market.

He returns a message in the form of mistletoe, "I surmount all obstacles." And we read that the mysterious man is the nephew of the one woman that Victoria had entrusted, at 9 years old...a woman who almost adopted her and became her mother.

The book goes back and forth: Victoria at 18 and the life she is trying to make for herself, working at a florist, dealing with Grant, the nephew, the man who seems to understand Victoria's distrust. Then there's Victoria at nine, living with Elizabeth, the mother who loved her and also treated her with a delicate, but firm nature.

It's a heartbreaking tale. Victoria reminded me of a stray dog who has been abused. She doesn't trust anyone, sticks to herself, doesn't speak, eats heartily, and is just broken. The difference is that animals seem to forgive and Victoria does not. She does not feel worthy to anyone, nor is anyone worthy for her.

Grant is patient with her and amazing. He is also a broken man. But when Victoria finds herself pregnant, she retreats from everyone again.

Victoria's life as a mother is hard to read but I totally related. I think women should read this part of the book to realize how awful it can be to be a new mother. I doubt many women will admit to finding such frustration to motherhood when it comes to this precious life...but the crying, the total dependence on you, the mother, and not having any sense of independence is overwhelming. I remember this for myself. And I love that Diffenbaugh made this part of the novel, with no 'tie a ribbon on the story' and have motherhood change Victoria's life in a positive way.

And it does end, somewhat, in a positive way...but in a sense, what might be expected in a 'real' life. The journey for Victoria is wonderful to read because you can see her grow more trusting from the moment we meet her in those first few pages.

One of my favorites and definitely my favorite of the year.

1 comment:

  1. i loved this book. Thank you so much for letting me borrow it. I think i'm going to get it for my mom, who is a social worker, b/c i think she might recognize some of the dysfunctional stuff going on with the girl and appreciate it. Mom did say that at least in NC, children are certainly not declared "unadoptable" at 10 years old, though she did say above 12/13 it gets much harder. But NC provides incentives for adoptive parents.

    I'm with you - i both loved and hated that the author didn't have motherhood magically change Victoria. At first you thought it might, but then she goes through her usual pattern of running away. It was hard, and my heart broke for the infant who learned that crying doesn't do any good. But i did love the nontraditional family unit that eventually formed as a result. It takes all kinds.