Some books feature a plot so engrossing that I can’t put them down, gobbling up pages and chapters long after I should have gone to sleep or to work, but I can’t stop reading because I need to know what happens next.
Some books are so beautifully written that I want to savor every word, and I wish I could read slowly enough to never reach the end, like when you keep halving fractions but never get to zero. I could live caught up in an infinite string of perfect sentences, marveling at the depth of meaning and emotion conjured up by mere words on a page.
Some books have such well-developed characters that I long to know everything about them. I want to reach through the page and comfort them, or slap them, or laugh with them. These characters feel as real to me as anyone I’ve ever known.
Some books present ideas and thoughts and feelings almost too big to comprehend. While reading, and long after, they make me wonder, worry, believe, doubt, despair, hope. After reading them, I am no longer the same person I was before.
Sometimes, on rare and special occasions, a book accomplishes all four.
The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, may be one of those books. Since I just finished it yesterday I’m not quite ready to enshrine it in my limited collection of Very Special Books, but I do know that I stayed up late one night reading it and then stayed up late the next night thinking about it. I still haven’t completely shaken off the combination of sadness and joy evoked by the book. I find myself thinking about the characters at odd moments, hurting for them, then hoping they’ll be all right. The language in the book, like the language of flowers, is clear, clean, and at times filled with pure poetry: “The sky was undecided, alternating orange and blue behind the approaching thunderclouds, full of the nervous anticipation of rain.”
The Language of Flowers opens on Victoria Jones’ 18th birthday, her emancipation day from child services. She is angry, lonely and lost. The story unfolds in two strands, one covering what happens after Victoria’s emancipation and one revisiting the past that led her to that moment. Both strands explore the different aspects of love, and how hard it can be to communicate love—even when using the language of flowers. In the end, both strands merge together and we see how the past affects the present, and how both, hard as they are, may help us face the future.
In a few weeks, maybe I’ll reread the book, and then decide if it’s definitely worthy of joining books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Book Thief, and Wild Sargasso Sea in my list of special books. But even if it doesn’t end up there, this is still a book I highly recommend.
If you’ve read The Language of Flowers, let me know what you think about it. And also let me know what books meet your criteria for Very Special Books.