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The Language of Flowers

Cover of The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers

A Novel
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    1.

    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 the hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Indian and Carolina jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused.

    Standing in the middle of the room, I located the source of the fire. A neat row of wooden matches lined the foot of the bed. They ignited, one after the next, a glowing picket fence across the piped edging. Watching them light, I felt a terror unequal to the size of the flickering flames, and for a paralyzing moment I was ten years old again, desperate and hopeful in a way I had never been before and would never be again.

    But the bare synthetic mattress did not ignite like the thistle had in late October. It smoldered, and then the fire went out.

    It was my eighteenth birthday.

    In the living room, a row of fidgeting girls sat on the sagging couch. Their eyes scanned my body and settled on my bare, unburned feet. One girl looked relieved; another disappointed. If I'd been staying another week, I would have remembered each expression. I would have retaliated with rusty nails in the soles of shoes or small pebbles in bowls of chili. Once, I'd held the end of a glowing metal clothes hanger to a sleeping roommate's shoulder, for an offense less severe than arson.

    But in an hour, I'd be gone. The girls knew this, every one.

    From the center of the couch, a girl stood up. She looked young--?fifteen, sixteen at most--and was pretty in a way I didn't see much of: good posture, clear skin, new clothes. I didn't immediately recognize her, but when she crossed the room there was something familiar about the way she walked, arms bent and aggressive. Though she'd just moved in, she was not a stranger; it struck me that I'd lived with her before, in the years after Elizabeth, when I was at my most angry and violent.

    Inches from my body, she stopped, her chin jutting into the space between us.

    "The fire," she said evenly, "was from all of us. Happy birthday."

    Behind her, the row of girls on the couch squirmed. A hood was pulled up, a blanket wrapped tighter. Morning light flickered across a line of lowered eyes, and the girls looked suddenly young, trapped. The only ways out of a group home like this one were to run away, age out, or be institutionalized. Level 14 kids weren't adopted; they rarely, if ever, went home. These girls knew their prospects. In their eyes was nothing but fear: of me, of their housemates, of the life they had earned or been given. I felt an unexpected rush of pity. I was leaving; they had no choice but to stay.

    I tried to push my way toward the door, but the girl stepped to the side, blocking my path.

    "Move," I said.

    A young woman working the night shift poked her head out of the kitchen. She was probably not yet twenty, and more terrified of me than any of the girls in the room.

    "Please," she said, her voice begging. "This is her last morning. Just let her go."

    I waited, ready, as the girl before me pulled her stomach in, fists clenched tight. But after a moment, she shook her head and turned away. I walked around her.

    I had an hour before Meredith would come for me. Opening the front door, I stepped outside. It was a foggy San Francisco morning, the concrete porch cool on my bare feet. I paused, thinking. I'd planned to gather a response for the girls, something biting and hateful, but I felt strangely forgiving. Maybe it was...

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine An orphan since shortly after her birth, Victoria Jones has few constants in her life other than the Victorian-era language of flowers, taught to her by a potential adoptive mother. Tara Sands excels in her narration of this story of pain, loss, and hope. Now aged out of foster care and group homes, Victoria must try to make a new life for herself. She supports herself by designing bouquets around the meanings of flowers, arrangements that seem almost magical, while at the same time she is haunted by the life she almost had. Sands captures perfectly the struggle of leaving a lost childhood to enter adulthood, of cautiously moving forward while being seared by the pain of the past. J.L.K. (c) AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
  • Entertainment Weekly

    Advance praise for The Language of Flowers

    "Instantly enchanting.... [Diffenbaugh] is the best new writer of the year." -Elle

    "I would like to hand Vanessa Diffenbaugh a bouquet of bouvardia (enthusiasm), gladiolus (you pierce my heart) and lisianthus (appreciation). In this original and brilliant first novel, Diffenbaugh has united her fascination with the language of flowers--a long-forgotten and mysterious way of communication--with her firsthand knowledge of the travails of the foster-care system. ... This novel is both enchanting and cruel, full of beauty and anger. Diffenbaugh is a talented writer and a mesmerizing storyteller. She includes a flower dictionary in case we want to use the language ourselves. And there is one more sprig I should add to her bouquet: a single pink carnation (I will never forget you)."--Washington Post

    "A fascinating debut.... Diffenbaugh clearly knows both the human heart and her plants, and she keeps us rooting for the damaged Victoria." -O Magazine

    "Diffenbaugh effortlessly spins this enchanting tale, making even her prickly protagonist impossible not to love."

  • The Wall Street Journal "An unexpectedly beautiful book about an ugly subject: children who grow up without families, and what becomes of them in the absence of unconditional love...Jane Eyre for 2011." --The San Francisco Chronicle

    "(T)he first-time novelist and real-life foster mother masterfully mixes sweet and tart to create a story that is devastating, yes, and hopeful, but also surprisingly, satisfyingly real."--Redbook

    "A moving and beautifully written portrayal of the frailty -- and the hardness -- of the human spirit". --The Daily Telegraph (UK)

    "Lucid and lovely"

  • The Minneapolis Star-Tribune

    "In a world where talk is cheap, debut author Vanessa Diffenbaugh has written a captivating novel in which a single sprig of rosemary speaks louder than words. ...The Language of Flowers deftly weaves the sweetness of newfound love with the heartache of past mistakes in a novel that will certainly change how you choose your next bouquet."
  • Good Housekeeping "We couldn't put it down."
  • The Sacramento Bee "Diffenbaugh creates a story of promise and redemption."
  • Joshilyn Jackson, author of Gods in Alabama "This hope-soaked, glorious book speaks to every once-broken, cracked, or poorly mended heart about the risks we take to heal, to be fully human, to truly connect. An astonishingly assured debut."
  • Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife "As a foster care survivor, I feel a kinship with Victoria Jones as she battles loss and risk and her own thorny demons to find redemption. Vanessa Diffenbaugh has given us a deeply human character to root for, and a heart-wrenching story with insight and compassion to spare."
  • Adriana Trigiani, author of Very Valentine and Don't Sing at the Table "The Language of Flowers is a primer for the language of love. Vanessa Diffenbaugh deftly gathers themes of maternal love, forgiveness and redemption in an unforgettable literary bouquet. Book clubs will swoon!"
  • Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah's Key "This heartbreaking debut novel about mothers and daughters, love, and the secret significance of flowers had me weeping with emotion and wonder. Victoria Jones is an unforgettable heroine and you will never look at flowers the same way again."
  • Kelly Corrigan, auth "Is it really possible that this is Vanessa Diffenbaugh's first novel? I can hardly believe a debut writer can bring this much insight and polish to a story. What an achievement!"
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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A Novel
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