Book Review: White Oleander
Hi friends! I am so excited to share my monthly book with y’all! For August I chose White Oleander by Janet Fitch as my book of the month. Please read on for my book review…
“An impressive first novel…. her startlingly apt language relates a story that is both intelligent and gripping.” — The New York Times, Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina
White Oleander was written by Janet Fitch and published in 1999 by Little, Brown and Co. Janet Fitch is an American author and fiction writing teacher. She’s published 3 novels, along with two additional books and various essays, short stories, etc. White Oleander is likely Fitch’s most famous work, which was featured on Oprah’s Book Club in addition to being adapted for the screen in 2002 starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Alison Lohman, Robin Wright, & Renée Zellweger.
“This is what you’re after when you’re browsing the shelves for something good to read. White Oleander is a siren song of a novel, seducing the reader with its story, its language, and, perhaps most of all, with its utterly believable (and remarkably diverse!) characters. The narrator is particularly memorable-there were times she made me want to cheer and weep simultaneously. Finishing this book made me feel gratefully bereft, and I look forward to Janet Fitch’s next work.” –Elizabeth Berg, author of Durable Goods and Range of Motion
The story focuses on a mother & daughter living in California. The mother, Ingrid is a beautiful, intelligent, artistic soul who doesn’t live by the rules, who also demonstrates some sociopath like qualities. The daughter, Astrid is both transfixed by her mother while also longing to distance herself from her entirely. After her mother is arrested & jailed on a murder charge, Astrid is thrown into the foster care system. From there the novel follows Astrid as she lives with a variety of families, focusing a lot on the lives of women, self-discovery, what the meaning of life is, & the nature of good vs. evil.
Fitch’s writing is incredible. The novel at times reads like poetry. It’s truly remarkable how she is able to translate this devastating story in such a beautiful way. That’s what good writing is all about! What’s even more incredible is that White Oleander is Fitch’s first novel– an boy oh boy it is a slam dunk.
I really enjoyed this book. It made me feel things I hadn’t felt in a long time. Fitch’s story re-opened my creative side, which honestly over the past few months has been in a little bit of a lock down. Ingrid is a poet & writer, while Astrid is an artist. Creativity drips throughout the entire story, thus sparking my inner creative side as well. In addition to the mother & daughter being artistic, several of the people that Astrid encounters over the years have different sides to them that really inspired me. After reading White Oleander I am very eager to pull out my paints & get to work on spilling my emotions all over a canvas.
“Janet Fitch writes with breathtaking beauty about the central theme of our age the search for self. White Oleander is a remarkable debut novel.” –Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
I found that every time I picked up the book I struggled to put it down. I would read chapter after chapter, then I would catch a peak at the time & couldn’t believe how much time had passed. With that being said, I did find that this book was difficult to pick up. Not because it wasn’t good, not because I didn’t want to read it, but rather, White Oleander is a hard read– emotionally, I mean.
The story covers some pretty intense situations between Astrid, her mother, the various families she’s with, etc. In addition, it brings the foster care system & a handful of its shortcomings to the reader. The book is dark. Simple as that. But the way that Fitch tells this dark story is filled with such poetry, such detail & just an overall loveliness that it really is wonderful. The juxtaposition between the hard story & the soft storytelling really is something.
I’m not sure if I have any criticism to add. The ending was okay– could have been better, could have been worse. I think endings are always hard & sometimes I wonder if I will be ever be satisfied with a book ending… I think I probably won’t be.
Have you read White Oleander or seen the movie? Let me know in the comments!
Cheers & stay chic!