Title: White Oleander
Author: Janet Fitch
First published: May 31st 1999, Little Brown & Co
Edition: ebook, 384 pages
Genre: Coming-of-age, Drama
Age group: Adult
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Astrid is the only child of a single mother, Ingrid, a brilliant, obsessed poet who wields her luminous beauty to intimidate and manipulate men. Astrid worships her mother and cherishes their private world full of ritual and mystery – but their idyll is shattered when Astrid’s mother falls apart over a lover. Deranged by rejection, Ingrid murders the man, and is sentenced to life in prison. White Oleander is the unforgettable story of Astrid’s journey through a series of foster homes and her efforts to find a place for herself in impossible circumstances. Each home is its own universe, with a new set of laws and lessons to be learned. With determination and humor, Astrid confronts the challenges of loneliness and poverty, and strives to learn who a motherless child in an indifferent world can become. Oprah Winfrey enjoyed this gripping first novel so much that she not only made it her book club pick, she asked if she could narrate the audio release.
I actually didn’t expect to like this book. It all started with watching the movie based on it. And while I really liked Michelle Pfeiffer and Alison Lohman in it, I didn’t quite grasp the whole idea of it.
Then I discovered that I have this book in my e-reader, so I decided to give it a go.
The book turned out as not an easy read. In fact there were times when it was really hard for me to go on with it because of Janet Fitch’s very realistic description and all those hardships Astrid had to overcome. But then I realized that that’s what’s really great about this book, it shows the life as it is, and one can’t help admiring Astrid’s strength and determination.
The main theme of the book which really stood out to me is the theme of survival in the world of people. A person can have it two different ways. The first is like Astrid’s mother Ingrid to “strive for beauty and balance, the sensual over the sentimental.” Or like Astrid, desperately trying to preserve all that’s dear to her heart, all that keeps her going. But neither of these paths can guarantee a happy ending.
I also really liked how complex the story is. It’s not only focuses on Astrid’s misfortunes as a foster child. As Astrid grows and builds her personality she goes through every important aspects of life, like family and kids, love, faith or money. And developing her own point of view on life, she struggles to finally become independent.
It’s not clear in the end whether she’s completely free from her mother’s influence. But the theme of finding home is also very strong in the story and for Astrid it’s still not set.
It’s also necessary to point out Janet Fitch’s writing. It’s really amazing and her descriptions are so realistic, if only for that the book needs to be read.