I picked up this book on a whim - mostly because it kept coming up on my "recommended by amazon" list. I did really enjoy it, even though the writing was somewhat amateur and the plot a bit contrived. Victoria is a foster child, emancipated from the system at age 18, and riddled with a troubled and tired past in 32 foster homes. Aside from one foster mother, Elizabeth - who stands out as a loving, caring and sensitive foster parent, many of her foster families are cruel and tragic. Even though she was abandoned as a baby, she has somehow never been adopted and has failed to stay in a home where she is loved. The only relationship she has maintained is with Meredith, her social worker who places her from home to home, and whom she mistrusts.
Victoria knows little or nothing about her birth mother, and is self-proclaimed "misanthrope," full of anger and skepticism. She hates to be touched, doesn't speak much, and keeps to herself. She is passionate though, about flowers and their secret meanings that she uses as messages in the few substantial relationships she has made. Despite her tragic childhood and her reserved nature, she is an incredibly likeable protagonist and you will find yourself rooting for her to earn money, fall in love, succeed and be happy.
As the story unravels, it centers around her prior foster mother, Elizabeth, in whose home she actually thrived, and Grant, a young man who lets her be who she is. Elizabeth loved her, cooked for her, homeschooled her, and understood her in a way no one else ever has. It is at Elizabeth's vineyard that Victoria learns about flowers and falls in love with the messages they can convey. Later, she and Grant cautiously begin a tentative relationship based on these messages and their common love for the land. Most of the book is a flashback, and the rest is an attempt for Victoria to reclaim the fleeting time in her life when she was at home.
The story, focusing on the ideas of family and belonging, is gripping. It is interesting that Victoria is not able to see beauty and goodness in many people around her, but is able to revolve her life around beauty and meaning in flowers. I was particularly interested in the overarching themes of child neglect and foster care, since my legal work is centered on the child protective system. It was a page-turner, and had me hooked until the last sentence. But, that being said, I found the writing to be careless in many parts, the flashbacks to be too calculated and the ending a bit predictable.
Still, this is a great summer read. Victoria is a strong, resilient woman, and books about people like her should always be celebrated.