The Language of Flowers (Hardcover)

By Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Ballantine Books, 9780345525543, 322pp.

Publication Date: August 23, 2011

September 2011 Indie Next List

“During the Victorian era, flowers conveyed expressions of love and were often used as a form of communication. Victoria Jones, an abandoned child who has been evicted from many group homes, learns this language, and upon her emancipation at age 18, eventually finds a job with a caring florist. A chance meeting at a flower market forces her to confront her past and learn to love and trust someone again. Diffenbaugh's extraordinary debut brings forth in elegant prose the emotions of anger and mistrust, love and loss, and the possibilities for a second chance at happiness.”
— Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT
View the List

Summer 2012 Reading Group

“During the Victorian era, flowers conveyed expressions of love and were often used as a form of communication. Victoria Jones, an abandoned child who has been evicted from many group homes, learns this language, and upon her emancipation at age 18, eventually finds a job with a caring florist. A chance meeting at a flower market forces her to confront her past and learn to love and trust someone again. Diffenbaugh's extraordinary debut brings forth in elegant prose the emotions of anger and mistrust, love and loss, and the possibilities for a second chance at happiness.”
— Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT
View the List
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Description

A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.

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 grief, 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, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market 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.


About the Author

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. This is her first novel.


Praise For The Language of Flowers

Praise for The Language of Flowers

"Instantly enchanting…. [Diffenbaugh] is the best new writer of the year." -Elle

“I would like to hand Vanessa Diffenbaugh a bouquet of bouvardia (enthusiasm), gladiolus (you pierce my heart) and lisianthus (appreciation).  In this original and brilliant first novel, Diffenbaugh has united her fascination with the language of flowers—a long-forgotten and mysterious way of communication—with her firsthand knowledge of the travails of the foster-care system. … This novel is both enchanting and cruel, full of beauty and anger. Diffenbaugh is a talented writer and a mesmerizing storyteller.  She includes a flower dictionary in case we want to use the language ourselves.  And there is one more sprig I should add to her bouquet: a single pink carnation (I will never forget you).”—Washington Post

"A fascinating debut…. Diffenbaugh clearly knows both the human heart and her plants, and she keeps us rooting for the damaged Victoria." -O Magazine

"Diffenbaugh effortlessly spins this enchanting tale, making even her prickly protagonist impossible not to love."--Entertainment Weekly

“An unexpectedly beautiful book about an ugly subject: children who grow up without families, and what becomes of them in the absence of unconditional love...Jane Eyre for 2011.” –The San Francisco Chronicle

"(T)he first-time novelist and real-life foster mother masterfully mixes sweet and tart to create a story that is devastating, yes, and hopeful, but also surprisingly, satisfyingly real."--Redbook

“A moving and beautifully written portrayal of the frailty – and the hardness – of the human spirit”. –The Daily Telegraph (UK)

“Lucid and lovely” –The Wall Street Journal

“In a world where talk is cheap, debut author Vanessa Diffenbaugh has written 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 in a novel that will certainly change how you choose your next bouquet."—The Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"We couldn't put it down."--Good Housekeeping

“Diffenbaugh creates a story of promise and redemption.” –The Sacramento Bee

“A deftly powerful story of finding your way home, even after you’ve burned every bridge behind you. The Language of Flowers took my heart apart, chapter by chapter, then reassembled the broken pieces in better working condition—I loved this book.—Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet 
“This hope-soaked, glorious book speaks to every once-broken, cracked, or poorly mended heart about the risks we take to heal, to be fully human, to truly connect. An astonishingly assured debut.”—Joshilyn Jackson, author of Gods in Alabama

“As a foster care survivor, I feel a kinship with Victoria Jones as she battles loss and risk and her own thorny demons to find redemption. Vanessa Diffenbaugh has given us a deeply human character to root for, and a heart-wrenching story with insight and compassion to spare.”-- Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife

"The Language of Flowers is a primer for the language of love. Vanessa Diffenbaugh deftly gathers themes of maternal love, forgiveness and redemption in an unforgettable literary bouquet.  Book clubs will swoon!"-- Adriana Trigiani, author of Very Valentine and Don’t Sing at the Table

“This heartbreaking debut novel about mothers and daughters, love, and the secret significance of flowers had me weeping with emotion and wonder. Victoria Jones is an unforgettable heroine and you will never look at flowers the same way again.”—Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah’s Key
 
“Is it really possible that this is Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s first novel? I can hardly believe a debut writer can bring this much insight and polish to a story. What an achievement!”—Kelly Corrigan, author of The Middle Place
 
The Language of Flowers gives us new definitions of human compassion in all its forms. Bouquets of laurel and trumpet vine await this beautifully arranged story!”—Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
 
“Devastating, hopeful, and beautifully written—The Language of Flowers is a testament to the tender mercies and miraculous healing power of love.”—Beth Hoffman, author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

"The language of flowers, as illuminated through Victoria's words and a special appendix, turns out to be an addictive preoccupation."--NPR

The Language of Flowers is a warm, satisfying, feel-good read.”—Metro

“A sensory feast of flowers and their symbolic meaning, this tale – seen through the eyes of foster care survivor Victoria – is uniquely compelling.” --ASOS

“Enchanting, ennobling, and powerfully engaging, Diffenbaugh’s artfully accomplished debut novel lends poignant testimony to the multitude of mysteries held in the human heart.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Fans of Janet Fitch’s White Oleander will enjoy this solid and well-written debut, which is also certain to be a hit with book clubs.”—Library Journal (starred review)

"Vanessa Diffenbaugh delivers a first-class, literary forget-me-not."--King Features

"A compelling story about spiritual hunger and the power of nature—and human connection—to help heal hearts."--Bookpage

“Uses green, growing things to say something fresh and special about human life.”—Chicago Tribune

"Elegantly written...a true “page-turner”."--Chicago Sun-Times

“A novel of emotional depth and uncommon force.”—Chicoer.com


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Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. What potential do Elizabeth, Renata, and Grant see in Victoria that she has a hard time seeing in herself?
  2. While Victoria has been hungry and malnourished often in her life, food ends up meaning more than just nourishment to her. Why?
  3. Victoria and Elizabeth both struggle with the idea of being part of 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 is it that makes Victoria feel unable to care for her child after the week ends? And what is it that allows her to ultimately rejoin her family?
  6. One of the major themes in The Language of Flowers is forgiveness and second chances – do you think Victoria deserves one 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 of past and present? In what ways did the two storylines parallel each other, and how did they diverge?
  8. The novel touches on many different themes (love, family, forgiveness, second chances). Which do you think is the most important? And what did you think was ultimately the lesson?
  9. At the end of the novel, Victoria learns that moss grows without 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 the flowers, to whom would you send a bouquet and what would you want it to say?
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