When a Book is More than a Story

26 Jan

I just finished reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I have probably read thousands of books during my lifetime, but I don’t ever remember reacting to a book as I did to this one.

The Language of Flowers is the story of a young woman who was abandoned as an infant, and lived in a series of foster homes, never becoming part of a real family. The woman who almost adopted her taught her the language of flowers, the meanings assigned to flowers during the Victorian era, when red roses came to symbolize love,  yellow roses infidelity, and most other plants you can imagine. The story begins when Victoria is eighteen and is released from “the system” to live on her own. She refuses to look for a job and ends up sleeping in a park, until she is hired by a florist. The story alternates between her progress as an adult and her childhood, when she is moved through the foster care system, and finally, through a tragic sequence of events, becomes “unadoptable” at age ten.

These two parallel stories held so much tension that I could not put the book now, but at the same time, if something horrible was going to happen to Victoria, I didn’t want to know. Just like Victoria’s conflicting emotions about the people in her life, I loved and hated this book at the same time.

As readers, what books have elicited that type of response for you? And as writers, how can we create that tension, that seesaw between good and evil, happiness and tragedy?

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