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The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: A Book Review

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers is the story of Victoria. She was abandoned by her mother at birth and raised in the foster care system. Her social worker Meredith took her to and brought her back after every failed placement. Finally, though, she went to Elizabeth, a vineyard owner,  who wanted to adopt her.

Language of Flowers

Elizabeth loved Victoria. When she saw Victoria’s misery in school, she schooled her at home. She taught Victoria the language of flowers. That language stayed with her long after she left Elizabeth’s home. The two used flowers to communicate feelings throughout their relationship. During their time together Elizabeth also taught Victoria about grapes and vineyard management.  That made her home education  practical as well academic.

The Aborted Adoption

Elizabeth worked hard to reach Victoria and earn her trust. Victoria was actually looking forward to the court date that would officially make Elizabeth her mother. Elizabeth had even bought her a new dress for the occasion. But the court date never happened.

Elizabeth decided Victoria needed a more complete family than she could provide. She postponed the court date while she dealt with her own insecurity. This disappointed and crushed Victoria, putting her back in limbo.

Unfortunately, Victoria was jealous of the attention  Elizabeth paid to her estranged sister Catherine. Elizabeth spent lots of time on the phone as she tried to repair that relationship. Victoria lashed out by setting Elizabeth’s vineyard on fire to get her attention. She did not intend for the fire to get as big as it did. Although Elizabeth still loved Victoria and wanted to keep her,  the powers that be put her in a group home. Victoria had destroyed the only chance she had had to be part of a family.

 The Language of Flowers: A Novel The Secret Language of Flowers A Victorian Flower Dictionary: The Language of Flowers Companion The Language of Flowers Coloring Book (Dover Nature Coloring Book) The Language of Flowers: Penhaligon’s Scented Treasury of Verse and Prose

After Elizabeth

This was not, of course, the end of the story. What Victoria learned about flowers from Elizabeth helped her get a job at Renata’s florist shop, Bloom. So Renata became her mentor and taught her the florist business.  Renata cared about Victoria as a person and wanted to help her.  Working for Renata brought Victoria back into contact with Catherine’s son Grant, Elizabeth’s nephew.  He becomes important later in the book.

That’s all I will tell you about the characters and plot. Anything further would be a spoiler.

My Review of The Language of Flowers

Vanessa Diffenbaugh develops the main characters skillfully.  Victoria tells the story herself so we always know what she’s thinking. One thing may confuse some readers. The action often switches back and forth between Victoria’s life with Elizabeth and her life after she left Elizabeth. The flashbacks continue throughout the book as Victoria thinks about her past. We are there with her so we see all the other characters through her eyes.

The book opens as Victoria leaves the group home on her eighteenth birthday. Then it flashes back to the day Meredith took Victoria to Elizabeth. Next we see her back in Meredith’s car on the way to a transition home in the California Bay Area.

Meredith tries to prepare Victoria for life on her own but Victoria ignores her. Her mind is busy reliving the history of her relationship with Meredith, who has stuck with her case all the way through.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: A Book Review
Rosemary for Remembrance

We watch Victoria finally get a job and we witness her employer Renata’s compassion on and concern for her. She becomes the closest thing Victoria has to a parent. Things appear to be looking up for Victoria until she discovers she is pregnant. You need to read the book to see what happens next.


How The Language of Flowers Affected Me

 

I loved this book. We got our own children through the fost-adopt program. Our daughter Sarah came to us at nine and found it as hard as Victoria to trust adults. She was just as troubled as Victoria and manifested it in many of the same ways. (You can read about Sarah’s life and death here.)

Reading The Language of Flowers  helped me better understand the problems foster and adoptive children and parents face. I recommend it to anyone considering adopting an older child, even those with previous parenting experience. The book packs an emotional impact that will be with you long after you finish it.

Incidentally, you will also learn the language of flowers in the handy dictionary of flowers and their meanings in the back of the book. I believe gardeners and vineyard owners will find much to enjoy in this book.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: A Book Review
Yellow Rose: Infidelity

Reviews of More Novels on Foster Care and Adoptive Families

  • Book Review: A Mother’s Conviction: A Mother’s Conviction explores the issues of what home is in the best interests of a child who has been in foster care while a parent has been incarcerated for a DUI. Should she return to her parent or stay with her foster parents?
  • In Between: Not Just a Title but Also the Theme: We meet 16-year-old Katie in her social worker’s minivan enroute to her new foster home with the Scotts. Her mother is in prison for selling drugs. Katie freaks out when she learns her new foster dad is a preacher. How will she adjust to that?

Book Review: A Mother’s Conviction

A Mother’s Conviction

The title  A Mother’s Conviction by Karen Lenfestey probably refers to a mother’s conviction for vehicular homicide after she killed two people while driving drunk.  She had two little girls.

The book deals with the issue of when children in foster care are ready for reunification with their birth parent or parents. Lenfestey accurately portrays the dilemma of foster parents when they fear they will have to hand over children they have come to love to a parent who may abuse or neglect them again. It deals with the question of what’s best for a child. It also deals with parental rights.

Book Review: A Mother's Conviction by Karen Lenfestey

Foster Care: Bethany and Willow

When Bethany Morris saw the return address from the Tennessee Prison for Women on the envelope, her protective instincts immediately kicked in. It had to be from Gola, Willow’s birth mother. Should she open it? Willow, Bethany’s six-year-old foster child, was just beginning to feel safe. Bethany loved Willow as though she were her own.

 A Mother’s Conviction (Secrets Series Book 3)

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A single mother and daughter of a minister, Bethany had become pregnant as a teenager. She had given her baby girl, Hannah, who was now sixteen, up for adoption without consulting her parents. Her father had never let her forget it.  Now Bethany finds it hard to be around him. She does take Willow for visits, though, since Bethany believes the contact with her parents is  good for all of them. (This story of Bethany’s earlier life is told in the first book in this series.)

Bethany’s current boyfriend, Parker, is the father of their child. He had been married but is no longer. He regrets he married the wrong woman, but he has Huntington’s Disease and he doesn’t think it’s fair to marry Bethany just so she can watch him die. As the two talk after Bethany has read Gola’s letter, she reveals that Gola said she will be getting out of prison soon, she is no longer drinking, she has turned her life around. She plans to take Willow and her step-sister Skye home with her as soon as she can so they can be a family again. Bethany and Parker also discuss Hannah’s pregnancy. It seems Hannah has followed in Bethany’s footsteps in that department.

Who Should Have Custody of a Child? Conner and Skye

Not far across the state line Melodie, a widowed lawyer with one child, Zoe, is looking for a job because she is beginning to hurt financially. Although she has experience with a prominent law firm, her interviewers don’t take her seriously because she is a devoted mother. They are afraid that will detract from her work. She leaves her latest interview discouraged, knowing they will not hire her.

When she returns home, she sees her new neighbor. He had seen her demolish her front door in the morning before she left for her interview. She notices he has replaced her door for her.

Instead of being grateful, she is furious, since she doesn’t want anyone to think she is dependent on a man’s help. The neighbor, Conner Walker, and his daughter Bella, had just moved into the house he’d inherited from his grandfather. He doesn’t think much of lawyers. He does, however, love his daughter, very much.

Melodie pays Conner a visit to chew him out for replacing her door, but he makes peace with her and the two become friends. As it turns out, their daughters also become friends. Their teacher had told them they are twins because they share a birthday.

Conner is upset because he realizes his wife Gola has hired a private investigator to track him down. He and Bella have kept moving so that it would be hard to locate them. As the reader has already guessed, Bella is really Skye, Willow’s half-sister. Conner, too, has heard about Gola’s upcoming parole hearing and he is determined to keep Skye.

Book Review: A Mother's Conviction by Karen Lenfestey
Photo by Chris Yarzab, CC 2.0

Neither Bethany nor Conner believes that Gola is ready to be a good mother. She had neglected the girls and often left them alone for more than a day with no food, while she partied.

She finally had hit another car while driving drunk, and two people died. That’s why she was in prison. No one had expected her to survive the accident herself, and that is why Conner took Skye. Gola claims Conner kidnapped Skye.

My Response to A Mother’s Conviction

This book hit me close to home, since I was once a foster parent. So was my next door neighbor. Both of us were in fost-adopt programs, hoping to adopt children we were fostering.

I remember taking long walks with my neighbor as we shared our concerns and our fears that something might interfere with the adoptions. Her foster child was a drug baby, born addicted. Our children’s mother  abandoned them when their father went to prison. He was the only one contacting them.

Their mother didn’t want them back, but she had promised our daughter she would come get them. She would promise to call at a certain time, Sarah would wait by the phone, and the calls never came. I learned this from Sarah’s previous foster mom. Nevertheless, Sarah kept hoping.

Our daughter still dreamed of being reunited with her birth mother. Our son didn’t even remember her. Even though the children had been neglected and had experienced much of what Willow and Skye had experienced, my Sarah still wanted her real mother, just as Willow did. She had been nine, older than Willow, when she came to live with us.

Book Review: A Mother's Conviction by Karen Lenfestey
Our daughter Sarah when she was still our foster child. © B. Radisavljevic

Unlike Conner, our only custody battles had been with the county, but we know the fear that comes when you think someone will take your child from you. Karen Lenfestey captured that fear very accurately. She also portrayed pretty accurately how torn the children in foster care can feel.

When foster parents have truly loved them, the children know it. They don’t really want to leave foster parents who have given them love, stability, and a home where they have made new friends. If they feel settled into a neighborhood and adjusted to a new school, they don’t want leave. Yet there is still a pull to go “home.” Sometimes they don’t realize that going “home” will mean a separation from a foster parent they’re bonding with.

Is A Mother’s Conviction for You?

 

A Mother’s Conviction is the third book in the Secrets Series by Karen Lenfestey. You can  get all three books at once to see what happened to Bethany before she took in Willow.

 Secrets Series (3 Book Series)

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Foster parents and children, single parents, young widows, or anyone who loves children won’t want to miss this book. There is an “R” rated scene, but it fits the context and relationship. This book has a subtle message for pregnant teens and their families, as well. The characters are well-developed and likable. You may find your sympathies going to all of them.

I will not tell you how the book turns out because I don’t want to spoil it for you. I hope you will read it because it deals with many issues relevant to today’s families

Book Review: A Mother's Conviction by Karen Lenfestey

If you think someone else may be interested in this book, please share this review with them. The image above is just right for Pinterest and there are other sharing buttons below.

Related Posts

In Between – Not Just a Title but Also the Theme

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: A Book Review

 

In Between – Not Just a Title but Also the Theme

 A Book Review of In Between, by Jenny B. Jones

Katie Moves to In Between

How does it feel to be in between in the small Texas town of In Between? We meet sixteen-year-old Katie in a minivan as her social worker, Mrs. Smartly, is driving her to a foster home. Katie’s mother, Bobbie Ann Parker is in prison for selling drugs. Katie has been in a group home since her mother was arrested six months ago. Until her mother left, Katie was pretty much raising herself.

In Between - Not Just a Title but Also the Theme - A Book Review

Like many older children in foster care, Katie fears what she may find in a new home. Katie is really freaked out when she finds her new foster daddy, Jame Scott, is a preacher.  Katie has not spent much time in churches.  As Katie and Mrs. Smartly get closer to the Scotts’ home, Katie discreetly seeks clues on what her “pretend-o-parents” will be like. She says it this way:

It’s like I want to know about these people, but I don’t want Mrs. Smartly to think I’m too interested. Or scared.  The thing with foster care is you have way too much uncertainty. I knew where I stood at the girls’ home. I knew who to be nice to, who to totally avoid, and what the lumps in the dining hall mashed potatoes really consisted of.

As Mrs. Smartly keeps probing to find out what Katie is afraid of, we get a good idea of what life in the Sunny Haven for Girls was really like and what Katie fears about foster care. She is in between one life and another, and although she hated the old, she is afraid of what she might find in the new.

She still smarts from the rejection of her mother, who chose drugs over her own child.  I remember one of my  own nephews grieving for the same reason many years ago. He never had to go to a real foster home, since my mother and I were allowed to take him and his brother into our homes until their home was stable again. Eventually it was.

Every Child Deserves A Champion PosterEvery Child Deserves A Champion Poster

Foster Care is an Adjustment for Everyone

Jenny B. Jones has written In Between (and the books which follow it in this series) in Katie’s voice.  Though the books are targeted for young adults, I couldn’t put them down.  That may be partly due to my own experience as the foster parent of a troubled girl we later adopted.

I only wish our experience could have been a bit more like the Scotts.  Our daughter left us when she was a few days from turning seventeen. As we continued to read In Between, we discovered that the Scotts’ also had an adopted daughter, Amy, who left them for some of the same reasons.  This is one more reason this book spoke to me.

In Between deals seriously with common problems both foster children and their foster parents face, and many of them are similar to what most teens and conscientious parents face.  These problems include self-esteem, acceptance, boundaries, discipline, expectations, drug abuse, and peer pressure.  More complicated issues include the fear of being sent away from a family once you feel at home, or having a child you have grown to love sent back to unsuitable parents.

We watch as Katie adjusts to learning about church and God, as she tries to fit into a new school and has to deal with a school bully who happens to be the daughter of her P.E. teacher, who is also a bully.  She first gets into the wrong crowd at school and gets into trouble. She is sure James and Millie will send her away, but they find a way to keep her from getting a jail record while providing some very appropriate consequences.

Love Makes a Family - Parenting Adoption Foster T-ShirtLove Makes a Family – Parenting Adoption Foster T-ShirtChosen Foster Care, Adoption Theme Personalized Ringer T-ShirtChosen Foster Care, Adoption Theme Personalized Ringer T-ShirtAdoption Made Me a Mom T-ShirtAdoption Made Me a Mom T-Shirt

 Maxine  Provides Comic Relief

Almost the first thing Millie does after Katie moves in is take her mall shopping for new and fashionable clothes. This is followed with a new hair style. While they enjoy lunch at a restaurant, Millie’s phone rings and we first become aware of Millie’s eccentric mother, Maxine. Here’s how Millie describes her to Katie:

‘my mother is, um, different. I don’t want to scare you, but she’s been compared to Judge Judy….on crack’

We then learn that Maxine can no longer drive because she knocked over a few stop signs. So she bought a tandem bicycle that she named Ginger Rogers and had a little accident

‘wiping out in the street. Luckily though, the chicken truck stopped for her. After it hit a fire hydrant.’ (Millie) shakes her head and laughs. ‘It rained feathers and naked chickens for an hour. But Mother says she is close to perfecting her wheelie.’

As you might guess, Maxine and Rocky provide the comic relief in this book to keep it from getting too heavy.  Maxine reminded me a bit of Electra Lark, Temple Barr’s eccentric landlady in the Midnight Louie Series by Carole Nelson Douglas, but Katie’s foster granny Maxine makes Electra seem conventional.

The Crazy Grandma ShirtThe Crazy Grandma ShirtIf Mama Ain't Happy T-ShirtIf Mama Ain’t Happy T-Shirt

My Recommendation

By now I’m fully immersed in Katie’s world. I have read all four books in the series, In Between (1), On the Loose (2), The Big Picture (3) and Can’t Let You Go (4).  I’m not a spoiler, so I won’t say much more about the plot. I can’t get enough of the characters.

I now really care what happens to James, Millie, Katie, Frances (Katie’s friend), Sam (Maxine’s friend), Amy, and even Maxine, crazy as she seems.  Like most teens, Katie doesn’t learn all she should from her mistakes the first time around. James, Millie, and Maxine do their best to keep her safe from those mistakes and unlikely to repeat them.

Trust is a big issue, as it is in most families.  The books show how it is carefully built, violated,  and rebuilt. We see important changes in all the characters as the plot develops, and we get to know them well.

Today I was Adopted from Foster Care - Custom Name Metal OrnamentToday I was Adopted from Foster Care – Custom Name Metal Ornament

I recommend this series to all who want to get inside the heads of foster children and foster parents, to those who are foster teens or foster parents, or to anyone who is a friend of any of these.  Even when the plot moves into serious territory such as tornadoes, bullying, vandalism, and cancer, the author allows us to laugh and relieve the tension. She doesn’t put anyone on a pedestal and gives even ministers and their families heavy problems to grapple with.

Although the book is definitely Christian, it’s not goody-goody nor does it raise expectations that Christians will have trouble-free lives. Instead it shows believers trusting God in the midst of their pain and uncertainty.

Get the Series All at Once

I purchased In Between as a free eBook from Amazon. It may still be free if you hurry. But I give you fair warning. If you read it, you will want to get the other books immediately. I have now purchased and read them all. You can get all of them at once in the Kindle edition.  If you decide to buy the paper rather than the Kindle editions, be sure to buy them all at the same time to avoid being left hanging, waiting for the next book to arrive.


The photo below is perfect to share on Pinterest. The girl in the photo is my daughter, who had come to us as a disturbed foster child. The picture  was taken when she was about the same age as Katie was in the book. You can read her story here: Sarah: The Suicide of Our Adult Child

Book Review of In Between by Jenny B. Jones

You may also enjoy reading another story of a foster child whose mother is about to get out of jail. Should she go back to her mother or stay in foster care? See my Book Review: A Mother’s Conviction.