- Mercy Sais
Why red roses on Valentine’s Day? The language of flowers was invented for communication between lovers—a flower can send a coded message. Red roses represent passionate, romantic love. Pink roses are sent for friendship. Shakespeare uses the language of flowers when Ophelia gives Hamlet rosemary for remembrance before she ends her life.
Victoria Jones, in The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, is obsessed with the subject, but she uses it to spread animosity. Having aged out of the foster care system in California and facing imminent homelessness, her life reads like a series of unfortunate events.
Victoria has a heart unacquainted with love. Her last foster mother, Elizabeth, taught her the meaning of each flower and said each meaning was “nonnegotiable,” but instead of giving bouquet of red roses for love, Victoria gives out the common thistle, representing misanthropy--her mistrust and hatred for humankind. She communicates with flowers, but she finds that Elizabeth’s world view is wrong. One flower can have many meanings. Victoria can change her path. But she has to face her past and “really want” her future, as her social worker has said to her all her life.
Author Vanessa Diffenbaugh, who has extensive experience with foster care, writes realistically about an orphan who is not a poor, little orphan girl like Sara Crewe in A Little Princess or a lovable scamp like Anne Shirley of Green Gables. I would recommend this novel for book groups for a great discussion. Many readers will enjoy the dictionary of flower meanings in the back of the book. The author has written the introduction for a companion book, A Victorian Flower Dictionary, for those who want to learn more.