by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Ballantine Books, 2011)
This novel follows a foster care kid, Victoria who moved around the system. It begins on her 18th birthday, emancipation day. Each chapter alternates between now and when she was nine and adopted by Elizabeth, a woman who owns a vineyard and taught her the language of flowers.
This is a wonderful book about a prickly girl who really had a horrible childhood bouncing through the foster care system. She would act out to get her foster parents to kick her out, like she knew they would anyway, basically a self-fulfilling prophecy. While Elizabeth is willing to take her on, thorns and all, you know something happened down the line because she is living in a group home when emancipated. This novel is about finding out what the event was and her figuring out her life now. They are somehow connected.
At nine, when she finds out that flowers can be used as tools to convey messages, she becomes engaged and embraces the idea fully.
I thought about this. Misanthropy. No one had ever described my feelings in a single word. I repeated it to myself until I was sure I wouldn’t forget. (pg 77)
Present day, she still doesn’t trust anyone but has a way with flowers and has memorized their meanings. She finds work and finds something she is extremely good at. It isn’t until later in life that she realizes flowers can have more than on meaning.
Victoria is a strong character whose actions were quite upsetting to me, but she was acting by instinct, a defense mechanism of not trusting, or believing, or hoping in anyone because of what life has taught her. Though it is still difficult to read when she does something particularly nasty and the surrounding characters are amazingly sympathetic and forgiving. I don’t know that I would have been able to be so forgiving and generous with time, patience and understanding.
I read this book fairly quickly, within two days, but I would get nervous about picking it up, because I was sad for the characters and wanted to avoid the big emotional scene I felt was coming. (I am a nervous-nelly when it comes to emotional conflict, chalk that up to being the oldest kid who was also the peacemaker). But it worked, tugged on a few heart-strings without being overly sentimental and seemed to end somewhat realistically. I quite enjoyed it and will be suggesting it for our bookclub. We will see if it sounds good to them too. Four+ stars curiously resembling the following flowers, carried by a beaming bride down the isle. white carnation (sweet and lovely) with coriander (hidden worth) daffodil (new beginnings) and hawthorn (hope).