I chose The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh because it covered a serious topic, aging out of foster care, and included an engaging subtopic, the language of flowers. In addition, over 3,000 Amazon reviewers had given the book 4.5 stars out of 5. Potentially, something for everyone.
The first responders could not identify with the main character. The overwhelming majority seemed to be unable to sympathize with Victoria’s abandonment of her baby, of her refusing assistance. The story was romanticized and unrealistic. And yet, didn’t that make it readable? Some members shared personal experiences. Others wondered how a professional midwife could not have known that Victoria needed more assistance and helped her with the constant nursing. One new member wanted to know more about Meredith, the social worker. Another felt that Meredith had set Victoria up for failure as she warned each family how difficult she was. We discussed mental illness and drug addiction. Even though the author has experience with foster children, we didn’t feel the book gave us a good picture of the foster system. So what was the point? We didn’t really get there.
One of the discussion questions asked us to define what makes a family. Catherine and Elizabeth were related, but were they family? As I listened and watched the discussion, about families now including all manner of support systems, not just blood relations, I couldn’t help but think about communities as families. Work families, library families, book club families. All needing support in different ways. All communicating in different ways. It makes me think of a story in Robert Fulghum’s All I need to know I learned in Kindergarten about a kid who plays hide-‘n-seek too well — “Get found kid!”
The room seemed filled to the brim with familiar and new faces, attentive and engaged. Although I know that everyone did not speak, the discussion moved between members and no one seemed to dominate. A large group has both the potential to bring in a lot of viewpoints and to make it more difficult for some to speak out. After the meeting, one member shared that she really liked the book. Another commented on learning about the Camellia Network, co-founded by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, “a support net(work) for youth aging out of foster care” (https://camellianetwork.org/). I wonder now, looking back, if we shouldn’t have broken into smaller groups. It’s a work in progress!
- Other works discussed:
- Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
- White Oleander by Janet Fitch