I generally avoid books set in the modern U.S., and when I read them I don’t like them. This book is an exception.
The Language of Flowers tells the story of Victoria Jones, who’s emancipated from the foster care system at age 18--with no friends, no money, no work experience and nowhere to go. (Fortunately, she knows a lot about flowers.) It also tells the parallel story of the one placement that almost led to her adoption at age 10, and how that went badly wrong. The parallel storylines work really well here, keeping the suspense high and illuminating aspects of the story that might not have been obvious otherwise.
This is a story that can only be told in the first person. Victoria is one of the most honestly written, authentic characters I’ve encountered in a long time, and although my background is nothing like hers, it was easy to relate. This is an emotional book--because as it turns out, the most difficult obstacles Victoria has deal with aren’t finding work or an apartment (although that isn’t easy), but connecting with people after a lifetime of rejection. But don’t think for a moment that this book is trite or sentimental. Instead, it deals with difficult relationships and emotions in an entirely genuine way, without pulling any cheap tricks. Which makes it an incredibly powerful book, and for that, I can’t recommend it enough.
Cynical readers might notice (as some reviewers have pointed out) that Victoria gets very lucky, both in business and in the people she meets. It’s easy to envision her winding up addicted to drugs, with a no-good and possibly abusive boyfriend, and unable to find work of any kind. But that isn’t this book; this isn’t a book about how being in the system is likely to lead someone to wind up on the streets or in prison, but about how being in the system can leave someone so emotionally damaged that even when she has an opportunity, it’s virtually impossible for her to lead a normal life. And so, yes, Victoria has that opportunity and the end is hopeful. It worked for me.
I will say that while Victoria is an excellent, fully-fleshed-out character, the development of some of the other characters was not quite as good. And while the writing style is good for the most part--Diffenbaugh is a good writer; this isn’t your average pop lit--there were a few eyebrow-raising sentences of the “Putting on my clothes, I went outside and unloaded the truck” variety (she unloaded the truck while putting on her clothes?). But these quibbles pale in comparison to the overall excellence of the book, which I would recommend to anyone, not just those who normally read this sort of thing. Because, hey, I don’t, and I still loved it.
Also, there’s a dictionary of flower meanings at the end, which is just awesome.