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Throwback Thursday- Book Review: White Oleander

Author: Janet Fitch
Published: 1999
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Number of Pages: 496
My Rating: 4

Summary from
When Astrid's mother, a beautiful, headstrong poet, murders a former lover and is imprisoned for life, Astrid becomes one of the thousands of foster children in Los Angeles. As she navigates this new reality, Astrid finds strength in her unshakable certainty of her own worth and her unfettered sense of the absurd.

      This was a book that I can say I didn’t particularly enjoy in the beginning. The author is praised for her poetic style and yet, at first, I felt it was kind of showy and over-the-top. While I did like the detail she gave and how much she would describe things, it was so in-depth that a lot of times it would distract me from the story and plot entirely and make me focus in completely on the poetic aspects. 

      As this book had been sitting on my bookshelf for years as one of those ‘I heard lots of good things and I really need to check it out’ books, I made myself keep reading to try to see what all the hype was about (Oprah motivates us in all kinds of ways). Let me tell you this- I am so happy I didn’t stop reading. Once you get past all of the similes and metaphors and really pay attention to the story line, it is a haunting story that will stick with you long after you’ve finished reading it. 

     The main character, Astrid, is mature and intriguing despite being a young teenager at the beginning of the story. She is entranced by her fascinating mother, even at times terrified of her, due to her mystery, beauty, and wisdom. Fitch does a great job portraying Astrid's mother, Ingrid, and grips you in the drama and fear that follows her wherever she goes. You will be sucked into the plot and follow Astrid's journey until the very end. What I really enjoyed about Astrid being the main character is that while she is a teenager, it didn't feel like you were following a young person around. Astrid goes through unthinkable things in the foster care system and makes you think twice about what could actually be happening in our society.

      While this is not necessarily a mystery, it felt like that at times as I was so desperate to unravel what made Ingrid snap and what happened to them in the end. You can't help but have hope for Astrid to try to find her happy ending and a family that will care for her. You also wonder if she will ever let go of her mother's hold on her and see her terrifying beauty for what it is. Another interesting note is that the author mentions that she herself has a great relationship with her mother and did not live through any of this at all. I thought that was amazing as this book is so gripping that you believe it's real and that it all really happened.

    Overall, this is a book that I haven't been able to let go of since I read it. I think about it at random times and still can feel the descriptions the author so eloquently put together. There is definitely a lot of darkness to it, it is about a mother imprisoned for murder while her daughter is thrown to the broken foster-care system, but it gives you hope as well.

Have you read it? Did you end up enjoying it as much as I did?

-Busy Brunette


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