The Language of Flowers

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I do not have a green thumb and was not sure I would like this book but I was immediately captivated. We meet Victoria on her 18th birthday in San Francisco as she is about to exit the foster care system. The story then proceeds at times in current day and at times as flashback. Subtle writing indicates she was badly burned at the age of ten and since then fire has haunted her dreams. Obviously because the story starts in a group home, when Victoria recalls her time in Elizabeth's home we know that it must have ended prematurely, as did all of her placements - but I was eager to find out why. Although Victoria admits she is difficult I found myself rooting for her from the beginning. I wanted her to have been successful in Elizabeth's home and I wanted her to be successful in her job.

I read the large print version so all page numbers reference that edition.

On a scale of 1 - 5:

Sex: 1

Religion: 1

Gruesome: 1

Suspense: 3

Morality: 2

Sex - amarous couple in the park (p. 45) - mild. A very PG scene pgs. 280 - 282.

Religion - no mention

Gruesome - nothing gruesome

Suspense - at the end of Part 1 we realize there was definitely something amiss with the end of the relationship between Victoria and Elizabeth. There is a nice balance between teasing out the story in the past and the one in the present. It was just enough suspense to keep me reading but not so much I couldn't put it down.

Morality - a young girl says the f... two times to someone her mom was speaking to on the phone (pgs. 320 - 321) The characters were flawed yet there was hope they would get better although no real strong plan as to how that might happen.

By the time we get to the flashback of the fire that haunts Victoria's dreams we've been through so much with her that I'd forgotten the fire. Not even the lighter fluid or the vines, which are major foreshadowing, reminded me of the fire. I was so caught up in cheering for Victoria's small victories I didn't see it coming.

Discussion Questions

Discuss the flowers that are on the cover of the book. What do they represent? Do they send a message about the book?

The book begins with a quote, "Moss is selected to be the emblem of maternal love, because like that love, it glads the heart when the winter of adversity overtakes us, and when summer friends have deserted us." - Henrietta Dumont, The Floral Offering How did you feel about this quote at the beginning of the book? And at the end?

What is your favorite flower? What does it say about you?

We don't know the main character's name until page 22 and her full name until page 30. How does that set the tone? How does it shape the character? Consider especially when she admits on page 38 that she ignores the names of others.

The initial messages between Grant and Victoria, spoken through flowers, said:

Grant - queen (tiger lily)

Victoria - beware (rhododendron)

Grant - I surmount all obstacles (mistletoe)

Victoria - presumption (snapdragon)

Grant - time (white poplar)

How effective was this conversation at shaping their relationship?

What impact does it have that, "Elizabeth had been as wrong about the language of flowers as she had been about me."? (p. 128)

Discuss the power of "expecting change, and the very belief in the possibility instigated a transformation." (p. 188)

Victoria held to the language of flowers because it was the only thing she'd been loyal to. "If I started lying about it, there would be nothing left in my life that was beautiful or true." (p. 189) What are you loyal to? Are you surprised she didn't lose faith after finding out different meanings?

Grant and Victoria kiss (Part 2 Ch. 13 end) over jonquil (desire) that he grew for Annemarie. Was it the flowers that caused the kiss or their absence from each other?

Elizabeth tells Victoria, "Blame me. I'm your mother - don't you know that's what mothers are for?" (p. 321) Did you know that's what mother's were for? What do you blame your mother for? What do your children blame you for?

" 'People change,' Elizabeth said. 'Love doesn't. Family doesn't.' " (p. 323) Grant believed that love does change. With whom do you agree?

How does Diffenbaugh manage to make the reader sympathetic to Victoria and even root for her?

In Part 4 Chapter 4 Victoria deliberates over what action she should take next after receiving Elizabeth's letter. She reasons, "As long as I did not go to her, the promise of Elizabeth's letter remained intact. If I knocked on her door, I risked coming face-to-face with a woman different from the one I remembered...and this felt like too great a risk to take." Debate the risk vs. the reward. Which is the better option?

"If you could eat only five foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?" (p. 460) What five qualities would you select in a relationship?

Have you ever experienced any mother-daughter connections like when Victoria knew Elizabeth hadn't discovered the grapes yet? (Part 4 Ch. 4)

The book concludes with Victoria sure she "would learn to love her like a mother loves a daughter, imperfectly and without roots." Does this description capture a mother's love accurately?

Grant and Elizabeth had lived almost in isolation for decades. What made them want to love, especially someone as challenging as Victoria?

Theme Ideas

Decorate with flowers. (Check their meanings in the dictionary at the back of the book first!)

Serve peaches and cherries like Merideth got for Victoria at a fruit stand when she was 9. (p. 21)

Serve fish and chips with chocolate milk shakes. (p. 23)

Serve "big bowls of pasta, thick slices of ham, cherry tomatoes, green apples, American cheese stacked in clear plastic sleeves, even a spoon full of peanut butter on a white cloth napkin" (p. 51) like Elizabeth served when Victoria came to her.

Serve a variety of fruits and vegetables to represent the farmer's market Elizabeth took Victoria to. (pgs. 98 - 99)

Serve peach-banana pancakes like Elizabeth (p. 107) and peppermint tea. (p. 109)

Serve donuts for dinner (p. 122) like on the scroll from the mysterious flower seller (Grant).

Serve Mexican food and Diet Coke like Renata and Victoria went to eat after work. (p. 90)

Serve sliced pear and muffins (banana with peanut butter chips) like Elizabeth served after Victoria's first day of school. (p. 131) You could even use floral muffin liners!

Serve French rolls with turkey, bacon, tomato, avocado and mayo like Grant had waiting in a white bag in the truck for Victoria.

Serve chicken curry like Grant ate while waiting for Victoria. (p. 191)

Serve chicken soup and loaves of bread like Elizabeth had made when Victoria asked her about friends. (Part 2 Ch. 6)

Serve grapes or wine like Elizabeth grew. (p. 200 - Part 2 Ch. 6)

Serve beef ravioli and packaged cookies. (p. 208)

Serve Payday candy bars like they ate in the drug store. (end Part 2 Ch. 7)

Serve chocolate souffle. (Part 2 end Ch. 8)

Serve chicken rubbed with olive oil and spices and new potatoes with rosemary like Grant cooked. (p. 227)

Serve blackberry cobbler (p. 232 & 236).

Serve oranges, nuts, figs and dates on a tray (p. 251) like Renata's mom at Christmas.

Serve roasted chicken, gravy, roasted vegetables: beets, potatoes and colored peppers, and homemade ice cream. (Part 4 Ch. 5)

Gather books for a children's shelter. Include poetry books (Part 2 Ch. 7) such as Gertrude Stein and Elizabeth Barret Browning, and The Secret Garden, Pollyanna and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Part 2 Ch. 8).

Sponsor a young person through the Camellia Network created by the author to support transitions out of foster care.