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The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers

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One of our Debuts of the Year 2011.

August 2011 MEGA Book of the Month.

The Language of Flowers is a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about the meaning of flowers, the meaning of family, and the meaning of love. We think it is one of the Debuts of the Year.

A Piece of 'Passion' from the publisher...

'The Language of Flowers was the subject of a hotly-contested 9-publisher auction last year and when you read it, I hope you’ll see why. It’s a book that will strike a chord with so many readers, because it is a book about love; and about finding love, and learning how to love, even in the most difficult circumstances. The heroine Victoria is isolated and damaged from her upbringing in a series of foster homes, and her only passion in life is for flowers and their meanings. It is Victoria’s love of flowers that eventually leads her to the possibility of love, and the hope of a normal life. And throughout the course of the book, the reader gradually learns the secret Victoria is hiding, and why it is that flowers mean so much to her. This is one of those very rare books that combines real literary quality with a page-turning and deeply moving plot. I have yet to encounter a reader who hasn’t fallen in love with it.’ Jenny Geras, Senior Commissioning Editor, Pan Macmillan

Prior to the publication of The Language of Flowers in July 2011 Lovereading ran a competition for readers to write their own reviews of this debut novel. Check out the review section below to see what they thought.

If you like Vanessa Diffenbaugh you might also like to read books by Lionel Shriver, Joanne Harris and Maggie O'Farrell.


The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Victorian language of flowers was used to express emotions: honeysuckle for devotion, azaleas for passion, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it has been more useful in communicating feelings like grief, mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen, Victoria has nowhere to go, and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. When her talent is discovered by a local florist, she discovers her gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But it takes meeting a mysterious vendor at the flower market for her to realise what's been missing in her own life, and as she starts to fall for him, she's forced to confront a painful secret from her past, and decide whether it's worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.


In July 2011 Lovereading ran a competition for readers to write their own reviews of The Language of Flowers. Below are some of the reader reviews:

'I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book from start to finish and found it very hard to put down a lot of the time. It has been beautifully written and I can see that a lot of work has gone into it. This is a wonderful debut novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and I hope she writes another book very soon. This book is divided into four different sections. It follows the life of Victoria Jones who after a childhood spent in the foster care system going from one home to another, understandably finds it difficult to get close to anyone. The one thing that keeps her going is flowers and their various meanings. Once Victoria turns eighteen she finds that she has nowhere to go and ends up sleeping rough in a public park where she plants and tends to a small garden of her own. Her talent is discovered by a local florist who takes her on. Victoria soon realises that she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them and becomes very popular. But it takes meeting a mysterious vendor at the flower market for her to realise what she’s been missing in her own life, and as she starts to fall for him, she is forced to confront a very painful secret from her past. What I liked about this novel is that it concentrates on Victoria’s present life but also gives you good insight into her past and what happened, leading to an incident that she truly regretted for years to come. It really worked for this story, and it didn’t throw me at all. I also liked the handy dictionary of the meanings of flowers at the back of the book. I kept referring back to it and it could well come in useful in the future. I can see this being made into a film in the future, its that good! I give this novel 5 out of 5. Hope it’s a bestseller.' - Sonya Kemp

'Life without love, life without security is the challenge that faces Victoria in the emotive yet beautiful novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh The Language of Flowers. With no family of her own, as a young child being ferried from one adoption house to another, Victoria is a lonely little girl with no solitude, or happiness in life until she meets Elizabeth who is willing to adopt her. Through the language of flowers, and their meanings, Elizabeth’s firm yet caring manner, teaches Victoria what it feels like to be loved, to be needed and to be part of a family. However just as life seems to be on the right track, something tragic occurs that changes Victoria’s new life forever, and puts her right back under the lonely reigns of the adoption system once again. Several years later, when Victoria is old enough to no longer be the legal responsibility of the state, she is out on her own. Managing to build a new life for herself working as a florists assistant and with the help of mysterious figure from her past, the many layers of Victoria’s being, enveloped and shut away like a tiny bud, slowly start to be unveiled. Unfolding and revealing the core of someone she has longed to be.' - Sarahjane Funnell

'When does a book leave its mark? When over an exciting story and a fascinating storyline teaches us something, or helps us to remember: just as the moss grows naturally without roots, a mother loves her daughter unconditionally and spontaneously, without that being taught, even who, like Victoria, did not know her parents and has not received their love, passing her sad lonely childhood from an orphanage to another. The Victorian language of flowers, so sincere and thoughtful, becomes the voice of the young protagonist of the book, that learns, with courage and determination, to cultivate the feeling of love that has no roots, to begin a new life with the people she loves. “The Language of Flowers” more than a book seems a small treasure chest, full of precious discoveries: each flower is not only a gorgeous creation that gives its fragrance and its colour, but it is also our messenger, a messenger unique, so simple and profound. Reading this book, you cry, smile, think. After reading this book you will never look a flower like before.' - Gabriele Ilradiologo

'Having heard that 9 different publishers had fought over this debut novel I was both excited and anxious about reading it. Would it live up to expectations or be a terrible anti-climax? Well, it exceeded expectations in ways that have left me amazed. The emotion in this novel is palpable. The main character is a closed book but as you turn the pages she reaches out to you and cries out for help and understanding. Love is an overriding theme in this beautifully scripted novel but it is not a comfortable theme. It speaks of it as a basic human need – both to give it and to receive it – but that need in Victoria, or the other people she meets along the way, is rarely met. If it is, we are taken through the pain of her inherent lack of self belief leading her to harrowing rejection of it. This is a stunningly crafted novel which is both gentle and compelling in equal parts shows a deep understanding of Victoria’s experience of being rejected at birth and spending her childhood in care. There is hope in the novel amongst the rejection and pain, intertwined and tied together with the perfect ribbon of the romance of the language of flowers – the meaning of each bloom – which becomes pivotal as a means of communication and reconciliation.' - Kate Giles

'I found it difficult to believe that this superbly well-crafted The Language of Flowers novel is a debut novel! It completely blew me away. Right from the first page, I was hooked on to reading about the painful life of Victoria Jones, a foster child. I sympathized with her as she narrated her dark past in flashbacks and struggled to respond to love from people around her. What I like about this book is that it radiates hope. No matter how many chances you've thrown away and what horrible things you did, there are still people who love, care and will wait for you. Among the many themes in the book, the theme that stood out for me is the theme of family love. The book explores the topic of mother-daughter relationships in family love. It examines how deep and strong a mother's love can be. Flowers. The book is filled with references to flowers. As someone who has always taken flowers for granted, I was intrigued at the deeper meanings flowers held. After reading this book, I will never be able to hold a flower without wondering about its meaning. I finished reading The Language of Flowers and put it down knowing I will re-read it. As a book blogger who has reviewed quite a few debut novels, I can say with conviction that this book is a definite winner. Vanessa Diffenbaugh did an excellent job in weaving together an unforgettable story of love, hope, and redemption. Her descriptions and portrayal of character personalities were beautifully good; many times, I had to remind myself that the characters were fictional. Read this enthralling story. Learn from the characters' mistakes and let them teach you about the language of love' - Evangeline Han.

'This is a beautifully written book about a character that makes you long for her to be happy. It is all about how children need unconditional love around them or their development is stunted. Victoria grows up in a series of foster homes and institutions never finding love and then finding it hard to accept it when it is given to her. You become very involved with her and you grow to like the people who refuse to give up on her. It has a satisfying ending and keeps you turning the pages throughout the story. I rather liked the flowers and their language as well but they would have been nothing without the story woven around their meanings. I think the author will prove to be a great story teller.' - Mrs S M Welham

'For me, The Language of Flowers is a powerful story of the feminine principle in our culture – woman as nurturer – and no matter how flawed we think that love is, it is often enough for us to function in the world and to become our own person. It is also about family and what holds it together/tears it apart and of course the language that the flowers speak – the messages that can be given. The ending was exactly how I wanted it to be - a lot more growing and understanding to get through. I loved the possibility of what might be in Victoria’s future, symbolised by the daffodil, hawthorn and hazel. This is one book that is a ‘keeper’ for me. It will stay on my bookshelf.' - Sharon Goodwin (Click here to read Sharon's full review).

'I find it hard to believe Vanessa Diffenbaugh has not written a book before. The Language of Flowers is a well written and well presented book. The story follows the life of Victoria who has been the victim of circumstance and ends up sleeping in the park. Victoria however loves flowers and the meaning they have each one individually, this takes her to meet Renata who has a flower shop. Renata takes her to the Flower Market where a flower seller gives her a flower, does she understand what he is trying to tell her? Who is he? As the story progresses with little journeys into her past life, living within the system and also being nearly adopted we get to know more about her. Just as I thought I knew what would happen the circumstances overtake Victoria and off she went in another direction.Will she accept the friendship of Renata and her family? Will her life ever get back on track? I do not want to spoil it so I will not say but I will say you have to read this book its a revelation into a world of flowers and a language that is not widely known.' - Carol Peace

About the Author

Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Vanessa Diffenbaugh was born in San Francisco and raised in Chico, California. After studying creative writing and education at Stanford, she went on to teach art and writing to youth in low-income communities. She and her husband PK have three children: Tre'von, 18, Chela, 4, and Miles, 3. Tre'von, a former foster child, is attending New York University on a Gates Millenium Scholarship. Vanessa and her family currently live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her husband is studying urban school reform at Harvard.

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Book Info

Publication date

18th August 2011


Vanessa Diffenbaugh

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Macmillan an imprint of Pan Macmillan




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