Though this book didn’t make it on my best of 2011 list, it was by far the best book I read over the last year. The reason it wasn’t there was because I hadn’t reviewed it yet and I felt a little silly raving about a book that I had not yet shared my thoughts about. I put this book off for a long while, and while my mind and all the other reviews I read were telling me it would be unforgettable, I had no idea how much this book would break open my soul and cause me to weep and grow anxious with anticipation. It’s not a happy book by any means, but it is a book that reflects on what it might be like to grow up damaged and what it might be like to try to unfurl all of those creased parts of your heart into a semblance of some type of normalcy.
At times this was a physically painful book to read. Victoria is so far from normal and so alienated that even her existence is one that most readers will find strange and unfamiliar. Growing up in the foster care system, Victoria has been through every permutation of neglect, from the loveless homes to the abusive homes and everywhere in between. When the book opens, Victoria is just turning 18 and is being emancipated from her group home, yet where she will end up is uncertain because she has no life skills to speak of. Emotionally, she’s still an angry child, and it takes several strange circumstances for her to even begin to be able to care for herself. She is the ultimate damaged individual and can’t tolerate being touched or have a normal conversation with anyone. It was hard to read about the life she was living, and when the opportunity came for someone to help her, I held my breath and urged her on quietly, afraid that she might turn tail and run.
When Victoria discovers that her affinity and knowledge of flowers and their meanings still survive intact inside her mind, she begins to slowly edge out into the real world and takes a job where these skills will serve her well. It’s here that she comes face to face with her past and a fragile and tentative bond begins to form between Victoria and a person from that past. But even as she goes forward, she’s unable to think and react in the ways that a normal person might, and her atypical behavior takes her further and further into the maw of irreparable brokenness and solemnness. I have to say that some of the things that she did during her struggles to become whole had my heart and mind twisting uncomfortably. Victoria is not normal, and though she’s not a bad person, she has almost no way of reacting to situations in a way that others would understand. It was almost as if she was a sort of primal and unformed person who only dealt with the visceral and who couldn’t understand even the basic underlying structure of being whole and emotionally healthy.
I fear that in writing this review I’ve made the book sound very dour and dark, and in a way it was, but in other ways it was beautiful and triumphant and uplifting. It’s the kind of book that grabs you from the inside and pulls and never lets you stop feeling, never lets you rest in the certainty of Victoria’s future, and it’s a book that will leave an impression on you a mile deep. As a bonus to the incredible story, the book also includes a Victorian dictionary of flowers and their meanings, which I found impossibly wonderful and very apropos. If you haven’t already added this one to your list, don’t wait any longer. It’s a book to be savored but also one that will first break and then heal your heart. Highly recommended.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.