The main character, Victoria, was abandoned at birth. She was given an estimated birth date by the government for paperwork and court purposes and then delivered into the flawed and sometimes hopeless system that would constitute the rest of her childhood. She moves from foster family to foster family, with long intervals in between at unforgiving and brutal group homes. She is repeatedly hurt (emotionally and physically) by the people around her and she learns to hurt them in return. This isn't a sappy, oh-pity-me story though; these are just the facts of Victoria's life and they shape her into the woman she'll become. She detaches herself from everyone and everything until she’s given to the care of Elizabeth. Elizabeth teaches Victoria the language of flowers and eventually what it means to be loved and love in return. Victoria soaks up the knowledge Elizabeth offers her, eager to learn what every flower means as well as its scientific name and makeup. Flowers offer Victoria a stability and constancy she has never known and for the rest of her life they are a great comfort and passion for her. At the age of 10, Victoria is thrown again into foster care, this time permanently (she is deemed “unadoptable”). After eight long years, she finally comes of age and is set free into the world with limited resources and no contacts. The entire book alternates between Victoria at age 10 when she was living with Elizabeth and present time as Victoria struggles to make a life for herself.
I think a sure sign of a good book is one that teaches you something and makes you yearn to know more. I knew nothing about the Victorian age's language of flowers until I read this book. Now I'm checking out reference books and poetry collections from the Victorian period to learn more about it. The way people would send secret, cryptic messages to each other through meticulously constructed bouquets and nosegays is just fascinating to me. It's like a more romantic version of Morse code. I really wish I could have had Diffenbaugh’s new book, [b:A Victorian Flower Dictionary|11601988|A Victorian Flower Dictionary|Mandy Kirkby|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51MgdTWf06L._SL75_.jpg|16544264], on hand to actually see pictures of the flowers that were discussed and read the definitions that Diffenbaugh used while writing the book, but it's not due for publication until September 20th 2011. So I'll have to be patient and wait for it. In the meantime Diffenbaugh gives a succinct definition for all the flowers in the back of this novel, so that's quite helpful.
Another aspect that I really liked was that Vanessa Diffenbaugh is a foster mother herself. She currently has three foster children as well as two small children. She's been exposed to the realities of foster care and has mentored several wards of the state so she has an intimate knowledge of the system and how it affects kids. She has also started a nonprofit called Camellia Network (camellias mean "my destiny is in your hands") to help foster children once they reach the age of 18 transition into the real world, so she's obviously passionate about this subject and it comes through in her writing. Anyway, I highly recommend this book. I absolutely loved it and am looking forward to more work from Diffenbaugh.