White Oleander

White Oleander

With 1142 ratings

By: Janet Fitch

Purchased At: $17.09

White Oleander is a painfully beautiful first novel about a young girl growing up the hard way. It is a powerful story of mothers and daughters, their ambiguous alliances, their selfish love and cruel behaviour, and the search for love and identity.Astrid has been raised by her mother, a beautiful, headstrong poet. Astrid forgives her everything as her world revolves around this beautiful creature until Ingrid murders a former lover and is imprisoned for life. Astrid's fierce determination to survive and be loved makes her an unforgettable figure.

'LIQUID POETRY' - Oprah Winfrey

'Tangled, Complex and extraordinarily moving' - Observer

Two things about this book really bothered me.

1. Sex between a 14 year old and a 50-something. Abuse is terrible, and some of the most important books out there tell heartbreaking, awful stories. Thankfully, I can't begin to understand 14 year old Astrid's situation, but Fitch's presentation of the situation as "consensual" is incomprehensible to me. Astrid's 14--she's a child and cannot consent.

2. Overwriting. There's a line between beautiful and overwritten prose, and in my opinion, this writing crosses that line by far.

I trudged through the whole thing because I wanted to try to understand why people have such strong reactions to it. I did appreciate that Astrid's character develops over time. Overall, this one just wasn't for me (two stars).

- briella_bennet

I wanted to read this because Oprah recommended it at some point in time but it left me feeling depressed. I couldn't wait to finish it, and only because I must always finish a book. There's so much sadness in this world and injustices too, but this book had more than its share. I've reached a point in my life when I find myself looking for good things along with the less than desirable. So many children, so little good parenting, leaving so many people with problems. God help us.

- rey_morgan

I was given this book from my 9th grade English teacher years ago. I was a foster child at the time. Now whenever I recommend a book to a teenaged girl who I see myself in I tell them this one. I ordered this for a friend. She is enjoying it.

- jolie_gutierrez

What more is there to be said about Fitch's White Oleander that has yet to be already uttered? But in order to satisfy my own musings (read: ego), I will give it the proverbial "college try".

A dark, lyrical and shimmering world, or "a landscape Van Gogh could have painted," is the reality in which our protagonist Astrid emerges and carries her scars (both literal and figurative). As other's have noted, Astrid is a complex and at times contradictory character, but whose teen-aged development wasn't? The crux of her struggle is not necessarily to escape the psychological clutches of her murdering poetess mother, whose ego parallels that of Philip Roths (!) and offers such sage wisdom as to "Taste his fear; it tastes just like champagne." Rather, Astrid's struggle is to internalize the numerous externalities acting upon her (i.e. the swath of foster parents) and sublimate them into an authentic identity that she may claim ownership to. As Astrid says herself, "People don't fit into slots - prostitute, housewife, saint - like sorting the mail. We are so mutable, fluid with fear and desire, ideals and angles, changeable water." It is watching Astrid's mutable and, yes, flawed progression toward the eventual reclamation of "own" self that makes this novel so compelling and her character "larger than biography".

- gloria_stewart

This much acclaimed novel is almost 20 years old and I'm finally getting around to reading it-- fortunately, it still reads as quite contemporary. This is a story about the coming of age of a young girl with mommy issues...on steroids...and a story of a mother whose enmeshed attachment to her daughter is both sadistic and addicting for both involved. The toxicity of this familial bond thrusts the daughter, Astrid, into a multitude of conflicted relationships with both the men and the women she encounters in foster home after foster home when her mother, Ingrid, is imprisoned for murder. A murder that young Astrid had witnessed in the making. Yet the prison bars prove no barrier for the dangerous hold this complex mother has on her impressionable daughter who is battling her own demons in the revolving-door world of foster care. 

And finally, as has been said elsewhere (everywhere!), Fitch's prose are a delight to read. 

- ashlyn_peterson

This book launched my foray into poetry. Janet Fitch's mentor is Kate Braverman, and you can see Braverman all throughout the book, if you are an avid Braverman follower. The lyrical prose of this book was creatively life-changing for me; the narrative and characters are so well-developed that it is truly, in my opinion, a masterpiece.

- moises_thomas

From the lyrical sentences, to the 10 dimensional characters, this story is not only intriguing but quite unforgettable.

We follow Astrid as a child, clinging on to her toxic mother, hanging on her every narcissistic word. "BEAUTY IS POWER ! "
She is ultimately put in foster care after her mother murders her boyfriend and is sent to prison.
Although she is 100's of miles away from her mother she feels the constant tug of her, pulling her back to the chaos she so desperately wanted to leave far behind.
Astrid find herself repeating the same patterns, seeing her mother when she looks in the mirror whispering "BEAUTY IS POWER !"

- itzel_ruiz

“The body is the only reality,” thinks Astrid, as she watches over her friend who is giving birth, to a baby she knows she will have to give up for adoption. “I hurt therefore I am.”

This is a book filled with pain and hurt, real hurt, the kind that makes you ache in your mind as well as your body. It’s not a book you will like very much, but it is a book you won’t be able to stop reading and in the end you’ll be glad you got to read it. You want very much to come upon a phrase that tells you that the protagonist has received some balm, some safety, some calm. This is an intensely realistic book that tells you of a child and her mother. The mother is a poet – and a kind of monster of self absorption. Her mistake is to believe she can get away with murder when her boyfriend throws her out. She will not rest until she has taken revenge. Astrid is a child and she is the one who pays when her mother is taken into custody. Now begins the trial of being a foster child. In one foster home the children are housed apart from their foster parents and consider themselves lucky if they are fed once a day. In another home, Astrid is attacked by neighbourhood dogs and badly scarred. In another she is shot by the jealous mother in whose care she has been left. I’m not going to say much more about the plot because to dwell on it inevitably reduces what can be said about misfortune of this kind.

Astrid’s mother is in prison throughout this book, but she is a presence who cannot be denied. Her notoriety dogs Astrid’s footsteps and poisons her life. As she grows older Astrid learns to acquiesce in what she cannot control. It is a dreadful lesson that does not always stand her in good stead. This is an unrelentingly dark book, as tense and expectant as any thriller, and as beautifully presceient and gorgeously written as a book of found poetry. Fitch never overwrites, she has a fantastic sense of how to work a story to the bone. Her prose is rich and delicate. It is hypnotic, challenging, complex, and moving. I recommend this book wholeheartedly. It takes you by the guts and makes you want to cry, but it is shorn of sentiment and self-pity. Read it.

- lee_richardson

I loved this book like I haven't loved a book in a long time. The writing was beautiful,poetic and lyrical but not corny. It was just the right amount of poetry. I loved the protagonists, Astrid's, journey as much as I craved hearing from her mother, Ingrid, the way she did. There was so much in this book that must've taken years of training and a natural talent that only this writer could possess. The story of Astrid and her collection of mother's,as she goes from one foster home to another. The prose is pure magic, pulling no punches with the ugly truths as much as the artistic beauty. I loved the strong characters, and I adored so many lines in it. Beauty even in the ugliest situations, like a true artist this is how the book is portrayed to us. I couldn't recommend this more to other readers. It's beautiful.

- gael_cox

Whilst this novel had a really good device for an interesting narrative - the journey of the protagonist through a series of foster homes, the prose too frequently felt overwritten and the imagery often somewhat clunky and overworked which led to rather a disjoint for a reader: it was as though more than one author was involved in the writing process! Fitch got into her stride when narrating her protagonist's more gritty and difficult moments in care, but the flowery descriptive passages, particularly concerning the mother character just didn't work and jerked the reader from the narrative.

- zander_nguyen

There's so much to think about while reading this. The relationship you'd have growing up and the impact it had on you. Every emotions was written in a descriptive way that drowns you in sea of feelings. I would pause reading for so long just cause I didn't want it to end.

I felt really close to Astrid cause this was her story and her journey, her wants, needs and questions for life. She was the sum of all of the things that's happened to her and it was wrapped so beautifully at the end. I do not recommend watching the movie for it doesn't render the whole story. Read 👏 the 👏 book 👏 only 👏

- cody_cox

I read this book a couple of years ago and still refer to it frequently and recommend it far and wide. For some reason, this story has stayed with me and I cite it as an inspiration for some of my own writing. Janet Fitch expertly combines raw, flawed characters and their often ugly and dysfunctional actions, with beautifully concise prose to carry the reader safely through the ups and downs of Astrid in particular.

There is something incredibly powerful about the way the author weaves poetry into the story. The characterisation is excellent, every person is so well drawn and real. The close bond between Astrid and her mother is tangible, as is the distance between them too. This is not a pretty, cosy book. At times, it's an ugly book that hits you in the gut in places and then astounds you with its beauty in others. I just adored this gritty novel and still recommend it widely. Review by Vanessa Matthews, Author, The Doctor's Daughter (published May 2015)

- corinne_robinson

I have loved this book it is so moving and beautifully written with such perception of peoples motives in life. It is quite a lesson in psychology. Astrid has the most amazing resilience to what is a terrible childhood. Too much description in books can be irritating but not this book, it really makes you think.

- allyson_hughes

A fabulous book and a real journey. The dysfunctional lives of mother and daughter and the heart breaking consequences of the mother's violent actions throws you into the world of mid American trailer trash. A must read for any book club.

- kolten_howard

I really enjoyed this book and the way in which it was written. The storyline is brilliant and very gripping.
I love the way it's set in California and very boho.
It's a coming of age story about a girl who gets sent to different foster homes and what she experiences in each of these homes.
I would have given it a five star rating only I did get a tad bored towards the end.
I think it ended strangely too, I think we could have read a better ending as it didn't tie everything up for me.

- lamar_taylor

This is 9th or 10th read of this favourite of mine and I never tire or it. It tells the tale of Astrid a young girl and her complex intense relationship with her mother. After her mother Ingrid goes away for some time Astrid has to adjust to a series of foster homes, each experience as life changing as the last. White Oleander is an exquisitely written story, and I loved seeing each event from Astrids eyes. Fitch's incredible use of description and eye for detail makes you feel and see every part of Astrids journey. Read. You won't regret it

- diana_robinson

The story of a growing up in a variety of foster homes, overshadowed by a twisted mother-daughter relationship. Well written. Really enjoyed this - but not the most cheerful of novels.

- mary_sanchez

I appreciate the poetic descriptive writing but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the story. I struggled to like the characters. My friend loves this book so I’m glad I read it but I was pleased to finish it.

- derek_hill

What a beautiful and poignant work of brilliance!! The book is so raw, powerful, emotional and delicately crafted I've been left thinking about Astrid, her Mother, Starr and some of the other wonderfully complex and extremely flawed characters within the book since I finished it a couple of weeks ago. Settle into your favourite comfy set with some chocolate and revel in the delights that this beautiful book has to offer. Buy it.

- calliope_gonzales

I really enjoyed this book; it is beautifully written. I found some of the scenarios a bit far fetched, but the building of Ingrid's character is fantastic.

- quinn_ramos

I was gripped by this story to the end. The author describes the people and story so well that I felt like I was living it. Anyone who likes Donna Tarrt will enjoy this book. It tells a sad story but there's also beauty and humour.

- kyle_hernandez

A bit depressing and crazy. Not my type of reading.

- mariah_castillo

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