The Wisdom of Books: The Language of Flowers

Sep 26, 2011

One of the places I gather wisdom is in wonderful novels. And one of the things that makes a novel wonderful for me is when it leaves me thinking, questioning, wondering, when I can feel the sands shifting in my mind around something that I had thought was solid ground before. This ability to disturb my heart a bit is what makes the difference for me between a good read and Literature with a capital “L”. I recently read such a book: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

The story weaves us through the present life of  Victoria, who has “aged out” of the foster care system because she has turned the magical age of  18,  with glimpses into her  past life from babyhood up until now. She has “failed” in one foster care situation after another, time after time.  In her last foster care home, the last before  she was relegated to only group home situations,  her foster mother, a single woman named Elizabeth, taught Victoria to love and appreciate the beauty and meaning of flowers as practiced in Victorian times: a love, a knowledge, a language, that grew in her across the years.

I am in love with Victoria. Beware: she will steal your heart and turn it inside out.

When she must find a way to care for herself with no money, no skills, and no home upon turning 18, Victoria’s knowledge of flowers leads her to a temporary safe and caring haven when she finagles  a job as a florist’s assistant. The weaving of Victoria’s bitter back story with her overwhelming present creates rivers of compassion and care for each character.  This book  helps me see more clearly possible solutions to all kinds of thorny social and personal concerns through the way these characters have each survived insurmountable struggles. I am in awe of all the characters, their struggles and attempts to solve them, their longing to do what is right and preserve their selves in the process. But I am most moved by the ways they each help one another overcome their most shameful and guilt-ridden mistakes.

The author is a foster mother herself, and has launched a project, The Camellia Network,  to support youth making the transition from foster care to independence.

If you are looking for something wonderful to read that will enrich your life in the process, read The Language of Flowers. I am enjoying the metaphoric influences this book is having in my mind and heart. I can’t stop thinking about it.

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