White Oleander: A novel

by Janet Fitch

Hardcover, 1999




Boston : Little, Brown, c1999.


Fiction. Literature. HTML:The unforgettable story of a young woman's odyssey through a series of Los Angeles foster homes on her journey to redemption. 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
This is my second read. I remembered being appalled at the things Astrid suffered in foster care. This time around, I found myself thinking a lot about the nature of love and relationships and living on the edge of survival. Although the narrator tells the story from an adult place, the
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descriptions of how Astrid sees her world reminded me that she was, after all a girl, a young teen, a child really. She never had a father, and her relationships with the men in her life reflect that. I think Astrid's "museums" at the end of the novel really sum up her experiences and bring some sort of order to the pain and the growth. This book was at times hard to read but also very thought provoking.
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LibraryThing member Carlie
I was only about thirty pages into this book when I realized I was hooked. It reminded me of reading about Las Vegas in Beautiful Children, but Fitch's portrayal of Los Angeles was executed even more richly. More than just an intriguing story emerging brilliantly, Fitch is first and foremost an
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excellent writer. It is a rare occasion when both story and writing style are matched so completely. Although the subject in itself is nothing new, Fitch manages to bring the foster child with a screwed up mother motif into a new shining light. She does more than convey the circumstances and happenings; the reader is thrust into the story, driving the desire to read on so that you can feel that same sun and wind, hear the voices and let them tell their part of the story. I'm not a big fan of long and winding descriptions that carry on for paragraphs without adding any significant weight to the tale or the characters. Fitch truly hits the target in this aspect. Every descriptive sentence is beautiful and well-placed, bringing the characters and the situations into focus rather than causing distraction or filling pages.

Narrated by Astrid, who we meet when she is twelve-years-old and living with her poetic single mother, Ingrid, we learn that her's is not a typical American childhood. She has lived all over the world, and her mother is her flawed luminary. All goes terribly wrong when Ingrid is imprisoned for murdering her ex-boyfriend. In the next five years, Astrid is shuffled from one foster home to the next where she slowly learns about herself through her surroundings and the people who care for her or at least are supposed to care. She constantly grapples with her own malleability and the ease with which she takes on the roles others assign her. She becomes a Christian, a semi-incestuous nymph, a fatherless child, a contentious daughter, an artist, a failure, a hard-ass. Each successive home brings with it a new Astrid and another internal struggle. The harder she tries to find herself, the more she realizes the fantastically devastating pull her mother has.

This novel was superb, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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LibraryThing member CarmenMilligan
One of the worst books I have ever read. Can't believe a movie was made of it. My entire book club HATED this book.
LibraryThing member Castlelass
Protagonist Astrid is twelve years old when her single mother, Ingrid, is jilted by a boyfriend and obtains revenge by poisoning him. Ingrid is convicted of murder and sent to prison. Astrid then enters the California foster care system, where she experiences a series of bad placements with
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dysfunctional families. Her mother still tries to control her from prison by writing manipulative letters. We follow Astrid over six years, as she longs for a mother’s love and escapes into art.

I liked the beginning and ending, but the parts in the middle depict relentless misery. The character of the narcissistic mother is well-developed, as is one of the foster mothers, but others seem more like stereotypes of foster care nightmares. Astrid’s character did not ring true to her age. The amount of mistreatment Astrid suffers would certainly have resulted in psychological trauma, but this topic is never explored. This book is definitely not for everyone due to the amount of disturbing content involving a child (e.g., drug and alcohol consumption, graphic sex, physical abuse, and emotional abuse). I found it uneven, but worth the time invested.
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LibraryThing member kakadoo202
even she has a hard life and no prospects and she should be depressed but she is strong and survived any foster home is being thrown in. although some foster home are over the top and can not be true it feels very believable and the story is engaging. easy and fast to read.
LibraryThing member kaionvin
In poetry:
Austere and tragic?
No; nor shocking nor
Merely obnoxious.

In prose:
White Oleander reads as a melodramatic persecution fantasy plotted out by contrivance and penned by an id-suppressed teenager.
LibraryThing member Bricker
A beautifully written emotional bat. This book is savage in the ups and downs of story about a girl left alone after her mother is convicted of a crime. A wonderful read, but strange in that some days I could only read 3-4 pgs and other days 50-60pgs. Well worth the effort and emotion this book is
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sure to inspire.
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LibraryThing member nikirubin
This book was probably the most touching i have ever read. The reader can feel the pain written into each page, the severe hardships of a young girl. This book is somewhat a coming of age story, but in the darkest sense. It was very relatable, in that I understood the sense of hopelessness, and
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giving up. It showed that every time one overcomes one hardship, the next is around the corner. It makes the reader feel better. It puts all problems into perspective, because it shows that what you are going through is not as bad as it could be. It was depressing, but so well written that i felt as if i was right there next to Astrid, feeling her pain, going to each new home by her side. This is one of my all time favorite books. It gives all aspects of life and many varied characters, and shows the tragedy in life and the silver linings. It is the ultimate "loss of innocence" story, far more effective than the classics, such as To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye. It is modern and realistic. It has left me with an unshakable feeling, one that i cannot identify, but is always there. Reading this at a young age, during a personal crisis, aided me in maturing faster. It displayed the horrors the world can hold. If Astrid could get through it, so could I.
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LibraryThing member TheSolitaryBookworm
Okay so this one was a tough read not because the book is not good but because it was crafted so like a poem, and man almost everybody knows I'm not into poems but still I've read the book and it was soo good! For one I can relate to Astrid's pain from jumping to one foster home to another. Growing
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up without a mom to guide her through the way. And to be taken advantage even as a child.
Some people who have read this may not get the book as a whole but when you really put your attention into it, you can related to it every step of the way. I myself don't know what it feels like to grow up in different homes, to be with different people, to watch out for yourself at a young age but I feel her pain of being independent. I commend Astrid for being the brave soul in spite everything she went through. I had mixed emotions with this book, you can love them or hate every person, you'll learn to praise them or condemn them. Either way, it's a beautifully crafted book, designed to captivate your heart and touch your soul.

"Always learn poems by heart. They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they'll make your soul impervious to the world's soft decay."
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LibraryThing member capung
"Love is tiring. It makes demands. Love uses you. Changes its mind. But hatred sculpt, wield. It's hard and soft, however you need it. Love humilates you, but hatred craddles you.""When women put men first, that's how everything got so screwed up."
LibraryThing member NativeRoses
Reading this book is like eating a gigantic, rich, chocolate cake of imagery and emotion. It's the coming-of-age, survival story of Astrid Magnussen, who becomes a foster child after her mother is convicted of murdering her boyfriend. Astrid bounces from home to home seeking love and nourishment
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wherever she can.

As she matures, she recognizes the effect of her longing for safety and love as she stumbles through various mis-adventures. A stunning girl, she must learn to navigate the longing of men. She develops her own discerning eye and becomes able to judge each person/environment for what it can and cannot give to her. In doing so, she does not become either overly giving or needy, but instead matures into an independent artist.

Astrid is also forced into making emotionally difficult choices regarding her murderer of a mother, Ingrid. Will she testify? Will her testimony help put her away? Help her go free? Each choice has lifelong ramifications for her, her mother, and possible victims of her mother.

As she negotiates new situations, Astrid constantly compares her response to what she imagines her mother would do. At times episodic, by the end of the book, the stories/scenes hang together very well and all serve to make Astrid the woman she becomes. In this way, the book is similar to Ordinary People by Janet Fitch or Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

If you're looking for exquisitely lyrical prose, this book will disappoint. However, readers who enjoy bare-to-the-bones, tell-it-like-it-is psychological stories full of emotional imagery about survival and overcoming extreme trauma will greatly enjoy this book.
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LibraryThing member carlitabay
the story of Astrid, daughter of a poet/killer, and all the foster homes she experiences
LibraryThing member montano
Oh my god! What a book! It's a train wreck that you can't look away from. It's a white knuckle ride from beginning to end. The story, the characters! Fitch perfectly captures the atmosphere of Southern California, from the scrubby working class desert to affluent L.A. With the main character
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lurching from disastrous situation to calamitous, the sense of impending doom and unlikely hope for justice keeps the reader turning the pages.
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LibraryThing member Stefanie2505
This book is certainly on my top 10 list!
Ever seen the movie? You should
LibraryThing member tkanz79
A great novel. I could feel all of the emotions that the main character was going through in the novel. It was depressing, but I loved it!
LibraryThing member LizzySiddal
Absolutely superb if slightly disturbing. After her mother is convicted of murder, Astrid Magnusson spends her teens surviving a series of dysfunctional foster homes. Meanwhile, her mother seeks to retain psychological control from her prison cell. I may just have to add Ingrid Magnusson, the
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mother, to the list of most evil characters in fiction.
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LibraryThing member nagtzaam
Although I read this a long time ago, I vividly remember portions of the story. A really good read.
LibraryThing member Irisheyz77
Not the best book I've ever read but certainly not the worst. What I liked most about this book was not the story but the way that Janet Fitch wrote it.
LibraryThing member whimsyblue
Deliciously written. I reread it every so often. It's one of my all time favorites. Astrid haunts me with her pain and need.
LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
In this novel, the reader follows the pre-adolescent Astrid as she grows up in a number of foster homes. The world painted by Fitch in this book is dark one where no person and no thing is to be trusted. The reader sees a number of adults in Astrid's life who border from useless to downright
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harmful, whether it's Astrid's narcissistic biological mother Ingrid or the lovely but fragile Claire. I felt very engaged with the characters, cheering when something went well for Astrid, near tears when defeat hit her again, and frustrated when I saw Astrid self-sabotaging over and over again. Fitch has a wonderful gift for prose and writes each line as if it were poetry. This book is not for the faint of heart, but it is nonetheless a mighty feat. I'm not one hundred percent in love with the end of the novel, but I would still recommend it as an insight into the broken foster care system, and also for the novel's explorations of truth, beauty, and the human spirit's ability to endure.
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LibraryThing member dragonimp
A compelling, haunting story of a girl's journey to womanhood. The writing is poetic, and the story is honest and sometimes brutal.
LibraryThing member hidden_lyric
This is one of those books that made me stop and realize how great my life is. Astrid is one of those characters you can't let go of; she becomes a part of you. She is a part of everything.

On a personal note, this is one of the few books that I actually enjoyed the movie more. I think because the
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movie is so beautiful to me. This book is not beautiful. It is painful and harsh.
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LibraryThing member estellen
Poetic and beautiful - though the story winds down towards the end.
LibraryThing member mzebra
This is a very tragic novel about a girl that gets schlepped from foster home to foster home. In the meantime Astrid's mother is serving time for murder. Her mother, Ingrid is like the devil that whispers in her ear and always finds a way to make Astrid miserable, despite being behind bars. Ingrid
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always talks down about families that take Astrid in. Astrid's character develops into a strong young woman that struggles to break free from her mother's psychotic oppression. Prepare yourself to take a few antidepressants after finishing this one.
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LibraryThing member andee29
I think it was just too high-drama and depressing in an unnecessary way for my tastes. While it did offer some colorful characters throughout there really wasn't much 'redeeming' about any of them.



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