The Monday Book: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

dogwoosI like flower language, and I’m deeply embroiled in a storytelling project involving fostered and adopted children in SW VA right now, so finding this book on clearance at a used books store in Knoxville, Tennessee, it was a no-brainer purchase.

It was easy to get into, but perhaps hard to stay with; this literary novel has a weird dichotomy running through its middle. On the one hand, it is about tough, stupid, needy, intelligent Victoria, a child who ages out of foster care and lands hard/soft/hard/soft as the book progresses. She’s hard to love, but everybody around her does. And the only way this tough, I-don’t-care girl can communicate well is by flowers. She uses their Victorian meanings to say what’s on her mind.

So does her 20-something suitor. And her foster mom and FM’s estranged sister. It’s kinda hard to buy. But what was it Isaac Asimov said – that every writer gets one free pass at an unbelievable premise built into his or her story? Diffenbaugh got hers in early on.

Still, as bad as the flowers strewn along this bed of thorns tale of dysfunction are, her characterization of Victoria is compelling. Just Victoria, though: the other characters all kind of serve her, appearing as extensions of what she needs.

This is not a character-driven novel. The flowers are running the show. And if you’re willing to believe that could happen, it’s a good read – compelling forward motion, an underdog to root (ha) for, and some very believable circumstances for the foster kid.

On the other hand, perhaps too much perfume, not enough manure, for the growth the characters show. A mixed review, but I can say that I enjoyed reading it, and only began to think “Hey wait a minute” afterward. It was good escapism, and a pretty good depiction of the inner chaos of a foster child who ages out. Just don’t confuse the elegant narration of this fiction with anything like journalism, and we’ll be okay. Ain’t no foster kids in SW VA giving each other flowers, jobs, or free passes.

(If you would like to see the blog on ADOPTION IN APPALACHIA, it is adoptioninappalachia.com. Go take a look at some real stories and advice on the subject.)

4 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

4 responses to “The Monday Book: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

  1. evetta

    Hi Wendy—

    May I recommend one of my favorite books by a great writer? Leslie Marmon Silko’s Garden In the Dunes. It;s been years since I read it, but it follows the life of a young girl who is orphaned, then adopted by a couple who are, among other things, plant collectors during Victorian times. It begins in the American West and goes from there. Quite a world tour of gardens, plants, history, race, culture, religion…… I may have to read it again if I can find my copy. Silko is a Native American writer I first discovered back in the 1970’s.

    • I’ll look it up! I’ve been reading Sherman Alexie lately. His sense of humor cracks me up, although I suspect I’m not getting some of it.

      • evetta

        I’ve enjoyed reading Sherman Alexie,, too. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven—how could you resist looking into a book with that title?

        I’m new to your blog. And love that you have a cat named Owen Meany. I read that book about 2 years ago and wondered why it took me so long to find it.

  2. I read this book a couple of years ago. Was drawn to it because of the title- I love flowers! I liked it- 4 out of 5 stars for me 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s