The Language of Flowers and Nature vs. Nuture
By Neely Kennedy

In The Language of Flowers, the LHJ Book Club pick for May, author Vanessa Diffenbaugh tells the moving story of Victoria Jones, a young woman whose journey through the foster-care system has taught her to be untrusting of herself, the world, and the people in it. Isolated and alone, only her treasured Victorian language of flowers allows her to communicate her true emotions. But until she meets a young man in a flower market, only she understands the message.

Desperate to survive following emancipation from foster care at age eighteen, Victoria is forced to answer the question … “Can we grow past our limitations?”

Below are examples from the book that show, for Victoria, flowers are not only a way to communicate, but a symbol of her ability to transcend her personal history.

Message of Hope
Excited to finally have the tools to communicate, Victoria gives her foster mother thistle, a symbol of her hatred for mankind, and ironically it bonds them to each other.

“Thistle!” I said, handing her the jar. “For you,” I added. I reached out awkwardly and patted her once on the shoulder. It was perhaps the first time in my entire life I had initiated contact with another human being-at least the first time in my memory.

New Beginnings
Just before her eighteenth birthday, Victoria is warned she must find a job in order to remain in the group home, or else be homeless, but instead she spends her days nurturing her first garden.

“Back in my room, I spread out the shocked roots gently, covered them with the nutrient-rich soil, and watered deeply. The milk jugs drained right onto the carpet, and as the days passed, weeds began to sprout from the worn fiber.”

Read more below for more discussion points —
but they contain some spoilers!

Fear of Failure
Fearing she will not be able to surmount the obstacles of her past, Victoria makes the heartbreaking decision to return her baby to the father to raise.

"When the basket was finally covered, I put the knife back in my pocket, picked up the baby, who had fallen asleep, and lay her down gently on the blanket of moss. Maternal love. It was all I could give her. Someday, I hoped she would understand."

Love Grows
Finding the courage to try again, Victoria returns to the father and her baby to finally realize she is capable of love.

“If it was true that moss did not have roots, and maternal love could grow spontaneously, as if from nothing, perhaps I had been wrong to believe myself unfit to raise my daughter. Perhaps the unattached, the unwanted, the unloved, could grow to give as lushly as anyone else.”

Book Club Bonus! At your club’s discussion of The Language of Flowers, invite members to bring a favorite flower representing a special message they want to convey to the group. Each flower’s meaning can be discussed, added to a vase and taken home by one lucky drawing winner to enjoy all week.


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