The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh The elegantly worded The Language of Flowers made me invest quite a lot during the first chapters, but gambled all my affection away later on. I will try to explain how this unceremonious drop around the middle of the story came to pass after introducing Victoria to you.

There is nothing victorious about Victoria apart from the fact that she survived to see her eighteen's birthday. Even social worker Meredith sees her only as a failure she personally doesn't deserve. A dark blotch on her white sheet of professional accomplishments: For Victoria has been a foundling baby, abandoned at an age that usually makes finding families willing to adopt an easy task. But somehow Victoria left and was made to leave foster family after foster family, fought in between for affection, food and physical integrity among cruel or indifferent caretakers and fellow foster kids as emotionally messed up and adapted to the loveless situations of their short lives as herself, botched up her last and only chance at a permanent solution at the age of eleven, drove Meredith crazy for the remaining seven years by countless court trials and group home fights and now, on her eighteen's birthday, the day the State of California finally rids itself from the responsibily of its parentless ward's well-being, she does not react as frightened and subdued as Meredith wished her to. On the contrary: She does not use her final three months time in the transition home to hunt for a job and find a room. She spends her days stealing flowers from communal flower beds and people's gardens to plant them in milk cartons, unconcerned about flooding and molding the carpet. On the day of her eviction into unassisted adulthood Victoria takes her flowers and moves into the concealed shrubbery of the town's recreactional area. Hunger and cold do not drive her into wanting to change her homeless lifestyle, but fear of physical abuse does, when drunk men invade her fragile sanctuary at night. Though paperless she persuades an overworked Russian florist Renata to take her on as a weekend assistant by demonstrationg her astonishing knowledge about flowers and her extraordinary skill at creating bouquets. So far so good.

Now you would think you will see the friendship between Victoria and her new boss grow and grow and grow, some relapses to occur, love to enter her life in small, hesitant steps … Yes, I agree, that would maybe mean walking the edge of tear-jerker-like soppy, drenched in the sickly smell of forget-me-nots and red roses. But I did not expect the story to rely so heavily on flashbacks to Victoria's time on Elizabeth's vine-yard - which triggered her all-consuming obsession about the meaning each decorative plant used to have in European culture – that climax in revealing the outrageous reason for the planned adoption to go amiss Her actions made me really irrevocably hate Elizabeth. That was inexcusable to do to someone who felt loved and wanted for the very first time and for Victoria to go finally - and understandably - feral.

My initially strong connection to Victoria slowly began to unravel, when she starts to get to know / date Grant, a young flower-farm owner she fleetingly knows from her childhood. I understood her reserve, her mistrust, her outstretched feelers. But I resented her self-centered, cat-and-mouse-style behavior and it really failed me how she first sleeps under Grant's kitchen table to protect herself from him and has him sleep outside the house while she locks all doors, but suddenly decides to let him use her body without really wanting him and without spending even half a thought on contraception. There must have been dozens of pregnant or infected girls in the foster homes to observe.. A friend of mine said Diffenbaugh's style reminded him a lot of the novels by Sarah Addison Allen. I do understand, because the works of both contain dark pasts and the woven-in magic of fruits or flowers or gardens. My association goes into a different direction, though: The heroine Victoria and her actions reminded me the most of is Carly from Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar. If you liked the romance in that novel, you might enjoy Victoria's and Grant's love-story as well.

The last thread between Victoria and me was torn when she declines everyone's help during her pregnancy and especially after the birth of her daughter, but selfishly makes the persons around her maintain, support, sacrifice, worry, plan and work for her even more than if she had accepted being advised and assisted right in the beginning. Why does she stop working? Why does she move back into the forest during her pregnancy, depriving her unborn kid of warmth, vitamins and proper nourishment needed to thrive inside her womb? She could have managed. And why does she start her own and illegal wedding flowers business – a bitter competition to her boss' business when she could have just asked Renata to integrate her unique service into her shop's palette for a more generous salary? Since she was still using Renata's wholesale card to buy the flowers she needed, Renata could have easily done her in by simply reporting her to the authorities. Plus, I hated the exclusiveness, that garantees her only successful mouth-to-mouth propaganda: She decides only to carter to couples who look like they will stay together, which later could be attributed to Victoria's choice of flowery accessories. The bouquets themselves are prepared by homeless girls, because only the flowers' happiness-inducing magic will be important for the wedding. How the bridal centerpiece looked and smelled and lasted, is of no concern whatsoever. A highly unlikely concept in my opinion. I, personally, would never, ever use Victoria's "Message" service. If I wanted, I could look up any flower's meaning by myself and I would not pay attrocious prices to have clumsily gathered mosses and leaves on my dinner table.

I need to stress that I actually have thought maybe it's me, maybe I have just not enough stomach lining and empathy for the broken mind of someone with a devastating childhood. The author information at the end of the book mentions that Vanessa Diffenbaugh has personal first-hand experience with raising foster kids. Apparently she gave home to one or more. After reading the book I do not question that at all. But when I compare my reading experience of The Language of Flowers to that of other stories featuring difficult or hard-to-like main characters, I am sure that a truely skillful author can make me feel and ache and root for any protagonist, no matter how strange or evil. I have just finished reading Froi of the Exiles (yes, it is Fantasy, I know). Fact is, when I was reading the volume preceeding it, I would have never guessed Melina Marchetta would get me to like him. Now I love him fiercely. Maybe his personal growth is fantastical, unrealistic, but maybe it is simply magic. The kind of magic only the best authors can evoke in a reader's mind.

Because of that believe I do not feel any reservations to rate the second half of this book only with two stars in contrast to my four star expectation in the beginning.

Completely off-track, but on my mind: If you like flower-shop-based plots, you might perhaps enjoy the Japanese movie Oto-na-ri. It is about a lonely thirty-something florist and a celebrity photographer, who dreams of shooting Canadian landscapes, living wall-to-wall in an apartment building without meeting each other. It is sad and funny and bittersweet. I loved it.

A lot of thanks go to Netgalley and to the publisher, Random House, for giving me access to an electronic review copy in exchange for this honest review.