20 November 2012

The Language of Flowers

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I began this book first because it was recommended by a friend, and then because Goodreads reviews were pretty much universally positive. Disclaimer: If you’re looking for “literature,” you should probably look elsewhere. I think this probably best falls under the category of Women’s Fiction, but whatever.

Apparently, Victorian couples communicated through flowers, each species of which has a distinct meaning and message. Now, in all honesty, I have no idea how popular or widespread this communication technique was historically, and I don’t intend to do the research to find out. Nonetheless, I have to acknowledge that the idea of it is certainly romantic, and potentially secret enough for Victorians to find erotic. Ostensibly, this flower language is what the book is about, and if you’re into flowers or secret messages, you will probably enjoy the secondary romance plot. Maybe because I work directly with court wards and foster children, I found the flowers far less intriguing than the characters.

Victoria Jones is a young woman who’s recently aged out of foster care. That may not seem significant, really, except that it is, I promise you. The child dependency process and the foster care system are specifically designed to protect against the exact situation in which Victoria finds herself: suddenly adult and without a home, a family, or a livelihood. Ideally, children without parents find stability – permanence – within a couple years of entering the system, at most. Victoria never found permanence, and though she would blame herself – tell you it’s because she was a constant disappointment and repeatedly failed to meet the requirements of successive placements – that’s not altogether true. Victoria – and many real-life children like her – are failed by the system that is designed to protect them.

Reading this book made me think a lot about the children whose welfare is entrusted, in part, to me. As a guardian ad litem, what does it mean for me to advocate for their best interests? Chick lit or not, it’s not every book that makes me reassess the way I do my job. Diffenbaugh understands foster children. Somehow, she articulates the fear, doubt, aggravation, and deep affection between children and their foster parents. I’m familiar with the dynamic, but I don’t think anyone I know is capable of so effectively characterizing it at such a soulful level.

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