Published in 2012 by Ballantine Books, a Random House imprint
For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose. Even so, the moment my mattress started to burn, I bolted awake. The sharp, chemical smell was nothing like a hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Carolina and Indian jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused.
Ever since she was abandoned at birth, Victoria Jones has been a ward of the state of California. Shuffled from one foster home to another, Victoria hasn’t found a home or a family to call her own. Life seems to change when she’s ten and is in the care of Elizabeth. The two are alike in many ways with no one to call family but each other. Nothing lasts forever; tragedy soon strikes and the two are separated. Now, Victoria is 18 and has aged out of the foster care system. She has no money, no job, and no place to live. All she has is the skills that Elizabeth taught her so long ago: the language of flowers, the Victorian notion that every flower has a meaning. But will this be enough to help Victoria lead a successful life and become a person who can love others?
This year, my reading has involved people and places that I normally don’t read about. With The Language of Flowers, I realized that I haven’t read many books that dealt with kids in the foster care system. It’s a system has taken a toll on Victoria. Readers learn about the many homes she’s been in from the foster dad who locks a young Victoria out of the house on a winter night to the foster mom who refuses to feed Victoria anything but frozen peas to teach her that “food isn’t comfort”. It’s heartbreaking as Diffenbaugh goes back and forth between Victoria’s past and present to show us how she became the person she is.
This isn’t just a story about heartbreak but possibilities. Redemption is possible even though it’s often pointed out though the book, that many of the kids who age out of the foster care system don’t get a happy ending. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.