Month: October 2013

Book Discussion Questions: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers book cover

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.


Title: The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbough
Page Count: 322
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Engaging, emotional


1. The story starts with a fire. What happens to Victoria? How does she react?

2. The Language of Flowers goes back and forth in time and each section is titled. What’s the first section called and how does it fit Victoria?

3. What do you think of Meredith, Victoria’s caseworker? Could she have done more for Victoria?

4. What flower does Victoria choose to give Meredith? Is Victoria’s assessment fair?

5. Meredith leaves Victoria with $20 and the advice to get a job. What does Victoria do instead? Why do you think she is so unconcerned with her future?

6. Why does Elizabeth begin trying to reconnect with her sister? Did you sympathize with Elizabeth’s focus on this?

7. How does Victoria test Elizabeth at the beginning? What happens after this initial testing period? What does Elizabeth tell Victoria about her behavior?

8. What characters come into Victoria’s life? Did you like them? Why or why not? What did you think of the “flower vendor” at first? Did your opinion change?

9. Victoria doesn’t recognize Grant at the flower market. What does he give her and how does she respond?

10. Victoria ends up in the library to find out the meaning of white poplar. What other discovery does she make and why is this problematic?

11. Is Victoria able to see nuances in life? Elaborate.

12. How does Grant court Victoria? Why does he persist with her? Are there any signs at all that she wants a relationship?

13. Grant learns to cook, lets Victoria sleep in his home and nurtures her interest in creating a flower book of her own. Is he an unrealistic character or do you think he’s a good guy and she got lucky?

14. Things are going well for Victoria at the flower shop. What talent does she discover that she has?

15. Do flowers really have the power to change outcomes for people? What do you think happened with Earl and Bethany?

16. What keeps Elizabeth from adopting Victoria? What did you think of her ennui? Why did Elizabeth say she couldn’t go through with the adoption? Was Elizabeth fit to be a mom?

17. How does Grant respond when Victoria tells him that they will never be like that old couple? What brings them back together? Why do you think Victoria keeps coming back to Grant when she so adamantly insists that she can’t love?

18. What sparks Victoria to make love with Grant? She initiated the encounter, but where is her mind during it? How does she respond to the news that she is pregnant?

19. What struck you as realistic and not realistic inVictoria’s pregnancy and delivery scenes? Were you surprised that Victoria avoided Mother Ruby as a source of help? As her labor became intense, who did Victoria want with her and why?

20. What flower does Victoria give Grant when she leaves? What does it mean?

21. Where did Victoria get the idea to set the fire and why did she do it? Why does she never speak up, even when Elizabeth is accused?

22. Did Victoria change when she became a mother? How do you know? Did motherhood change how Victoria views others? How comfortable were you with Victoria’s experience as a new mom?

23. How does the baby react after Victoria’s night in the woods?

24. What did you think of the end of The Language of Flowers?

25. Victoria said, “I wanted more than anything to be Elizabeth’s daughter.” She doesn’t mention being Grant’s wife. Was one relationship more pivotal than the other? Do you think this reflects the author’s views?

26. In your opinion, was this book realistic? Did parts of it seem more true to life than others?

27. Victoria’s life so easily could have had a different outcome. To your mind, who was the most instrumental in helping her have a fulfilling adulthood? Was it just one person?

28. Is this book an annual – something enjoyed for a season – or is it destined to be a perennial – something people come back to year after year?

29. Diffenbaugh said she wrote this book because she has strong feelings about the foster care system. What do you think her views are after reading this book? Do you think this book can make a difference in the foster care system? How?

30. In the end, Victoria answers the question Diffenbaugh posed – can someone who’s never been loved learn how to do so? Do you believe this is true or is it wishful thinking?



Other Resources

Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s website
Oprah’s book discussion questions
Daily Beast interview
Bookreporter interview
Washington Post review
AV Club review
Wikipedia entry on floriography


If you liked The Language of Flowers, try…

White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Being Lara by Lola Jaye
Wrecker by Summer Wood

White Oleander book cover    Being Lara book coverWrecker book cover

“A Fantastic Portrayer of Human Beings”

Away from Her book coverThe winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature is Alice Munro, lauded by the Swedish Academy as a “master of the contemporary short story.” She is the first Canadian citizen and only the thirteenth woman to be awarded this honor. Earlier this year Munro stated that Dear Life (2012), her fourteenth collection, would be her last. Many know her story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” about a devoted couple’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, through the film adaptation Away from Her. Other successes include The View from Castle Rock (2006) and Too Much Happiness (2009).  Often likened to a modern-day Chekhov, Munro was praised by the Academy’s Permanent Secretary as “a fantastic portrayer of human beings.” What better invitation might a reader need?

LISTS: Southern Gothic Fiction

Everything That Rises Must Converge book coverSouthern Gothic fiction is sinister and sometimes surreal writing that takes place in the American South. Flannery O’Connor, a leading author in the genre, said, “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless, and brutal.”

Click here for  the work of O’Connor and other Southern Gothic writers.

Literary Ghost Stories

Small Hand and Dolly book coverSusan Hill is the author of The Woman in Black, which was adapted into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe. Her latest collection of haunting and dread is The Small Hand and Dolly. In The Small Hand, Adam gets lost on the way home from work and finds himself at a dilapidated Edwardian home. While wandering the garden, a cold, invisible hand reaches to hold his, and his life is never the same. In Dolly, Edward is sent to live with his aunt at her summer home. He finds that Leonora, his cousin, can throw furious, terrifying rages when she doesn’t get her way. If you like foreboding fiction with quieter rather than bloodier scares, try Susan Hill’s macabre novels.

Cynthia’s Pick: Spaced

Cynthia staff picks photoHe’s been dumped, and she’s squatting with innumerable roommates. Twenty-somethings Tim and Daisy figure the obvious solution is to pretend to be a couple to get a flat. British comedy series Spaced is full of quirky references, characters, and situations you’d expect from Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead fame.

Wife 22

Alice Buckle is a busy working mom. Right after her husband has an unexpected melt down at his advertising company, Alice has been asked to participate in the Netherfeld Center’s Marriage Studies Survey. This begins her identity as Wife 22. As Alice answers questions about her hope and dreams, the times she has loved her husband the most and loved him the least, she is forced to look at the bigger issues in her own life. In the meantime, the sparks are sizzling between Alice and Researcher 101. Wife 22 asks the question:  Is it possible to have romance and passion in mid-life? One way or another Alice is going to find the answer to her own happily ever after.

LISTS: Horror Adaptations

The Exorcist DVD coverThe Exorcist, Hellraiser, Dracula, The Mist – what do these wildly different horror movies have in common? They were based on books! Stoker to King and plenty between have made it to the silver screen.

To see what other horror works have been made into movies, click here.

Historical Fiction on the Jersey Shore

Palisades Park book coverEddie and Adele sell French fries at Palisades Park not far from the Cyclone roller coaster. The Stopka’s food stall becomes a family business when their children, Toni and Jack, come along. It’s easy to dream big when you’re surrounded by the beauty and continuous fun of Palisades…but eventually reality causes cracks in the Stopka’s wonderland. Palisades Park by Alan Brennert – author of Moloka’I – follows the Stopka family as the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, fire, race riots, and the rest of the 20th century unfold around them. If you like richly-detailed historical fiction, nostalgic Americana, or deep family stories, try Palisades Park.

Book Discussion Questions: Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Outcasts United book cover

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.


Title: Outcasts United
Author: Warren St. John
Page Count: 307
Genre: Nonfiction
Tone: Uplifting, educational


1. Has the book Outcasts United given you a better understanding of the lives of refugees? Did it change your opinions on refugees? If so, how?

2. Does Outcasts United fall into your normal reading patterns? How is this book similar or different to what you normally read?

3. Do you normally read on a local or a global scale? What is the worth of reading of local topics? What is the worth of reading of global topics? Is one type of reading better than the other?

4. What were some of the hardships that refugees faced before coming to America? What about after they got here?

5. What preconceptions do you think refugees brought with them about America? How was the reality of their new country different than their expectations?

6. How did the members of the Fugees build community after coming to Clarkston?

7. Talk about Clarkston, Georgia before the refugee settlement. How did it change after the refugee settlement was established?

8. Why was Clarkston chosen for the refugee settlement?

9. What were the different reactions from residents about the settlement? Did anyone’s opinions of the refugee settlement change over time?

10. Were the refugees all one ethnicity and religion? How did varied ethnic and religious backgrounds affect the refugee community as a whole?

11. Who were the Somali Bantu? Why were residents wary of the Somali Bantu settling in Clarkston?

12. What are some of the struggles with identity that the refugees faced in Outcasts United? What are some of the struggles with identity that long-term Clarkston faced in Outcasts United?

13. Who is Luma? Why did she help the students and their families? What can we learn by her example?

14. Is Luma’s refugee experience similar to that of her players? How? How is it different?

15. Why do you think Luma’s younger players were able to better connect than her older players?

16. Did the educational policies in Clarkston help or hinder the members of the Fugees? What, if any, reforms would you suggest?

17. What kind of coach was Luma? Did her gender affect her coaching style? Is there a right or a wrong way to coach?

18. Was soccer “just a game” in Outcasts United?

19. What examples of “paying it forward” did you notice in Outcasts United?

20. What does diversity mean to you? Is it something you actively encourage in your reading, watching, listening, and living patterns?

21. Can one person make a significant difference in the world?


Other Resources

Outcasts United website
Random House lesson plans
Warren St. John on NPR
CBS coverage of Outcasts United
Sports Illutrated article on Luma


If you liked Outcasts United, try…

In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda
The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof

In the Sea There are Crocodiles book cover     Ball is Round book coverHalf the Sky book cover