I hit a bit of a lull in my reading this summer. I usually have my reading selections planned several books in advance, and suddenly I found myself at the end of my stack with no idea where to go next and a kind of bored restlessness about choosing one. Choose one, though, I did, with the recommendations of a few friends.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh is a book that my mom’s book club had read a few years ago and that I’d seen many times on her bookshelf but never picked up. Another friend recommended it one day when I was on my way to the used bookshop, and after finding a copy there, I decided to give it a go.
The Language of Flowers tells the story of Victoria Jones, a prickly and mistrustful young woman who ages out of the foster-care system in San Francisco and find herself having to figure out how to build a life for herself. She relies on her knowledge of the Victorian language of flowers, where flowers communicate specific meanings to their recipients, to land a job at a florist shop, where she wows customers with her special bouquets and forms human connections that would be difficult for her without the shield of floral communication. In alternating chapters, Victoria remembers the closest she came to having a family with her foster mother, Elizabeth, when she was 10; how Elizabeth taught her to communicate with flowers; and the disaster that prevented them from forming a permanent home. By the end, past and present collide as Victoria has to decide what she ultimately wants from life: independence or a family.
This book was an interesting read for me. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. Victoria’s (justified) negative attitude was rather consuming, and I found myself taking on a similar bad mood every time I picked up the book. Additionally, I felt like the story wasn’t the right size. To me it felt like there either needed to be more or less, particularly at the end, which felt very neat and pat and wrapped up with a bow. Maybe I wanted more there? More conversation, more acknowledgement of the past, more something? After every horrible thing that had been done, said, laid out, was it really that easy? Not that Victoria has had an easy life, but I think because of her hardships, it just felt insubstantial in the end.
That being said, it is an incredibly fast and engrossing read. Historically, I have prided myself on never missing my train transfer on the way home. If I did, I would add an additional hour to my commute home due to the train going express to the north suburbs after that stop. The first time in my life I missed that transfer was while reading this novel and being so caught up in it that I didn’t realize I had missed the transfer until 10 minutes into the ride to the suburbs. So that’s something.
Again, I’m not sure I enjoyed this book. I know people who very much did, who loved it for its unique story, vivid characters, and use of the language of flowers as a framing device. I am not one of them, but I appreciated how it makes you think: about hopes and dreams, missed goals, the fragility and strength of relationships, how we can both be our own best friend and worst enemy, and ultimately about how life can surprise us in the best ways, if we will let it. So I say, yes, read The Language of Flowers. I have no idea how much you will enjoy it. But I can say it will be a worthwhile read.