Once in awhile, a book comes along and moves you so unexpectedly that you keep thinking about it long after you'd turned the last page. Vanessa Diffenbaugh's debut The Language of Flowers * (being released today) is as memorable as anything I have read of late.
32 foster homes, 18 years of abuse, neglect and disappointment fail to prepare Victoria Jones for life on her own after being emancipated from the California foster-care system. Squatting in the local park is dangerous but it allows her to care for the personal garden she secretly (and illegally) cultivates. Flowers and their language she understands. People she avoids.
When a local florist discovers Victoria's gift with flowers, she offers her a job and soon her talent is in demand as word gets around that her bouquets have the ability to transform and affect change. All the while, Victoria guards her solitude - until a mysterious vendor at the flower market marks her with his own unique offerings, the meaning of which sends Victoria to the San Francisco Public Library, and forces her to come to terms with a secret that haunts her.
Readers wanting to learn more about the symbolic language of flowers would be pleased to find a glossary included at the back of the book. Or check out The Language Of Flowers : Symbols And Myths by Marina Heilmeyer and Kate Greenaway's definitive The Illuminated Language Of Flowers.
Readers might try She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb for another moving, character-driven, bittersweet, coming-of-age story of grief and self-acceptance. In Julie Orringer's debut collection How to Breathe Underwater: stories we meet young protagonists trapped in awkward, painful situations who discover surprising reserves and wisdom in themselves.
* = Starred review (and one on NPR)