Janet Fitch: White Oleander

Everywhere hailed as a novel of rare beauty and power, White Oleander tells the unforgettable story of Ingrid, a brilliant poet imprisoned for murder, and her daughter, Astrid, whose odyssey through a series of Los Angeles foster homes–each its own universe, with its own laws, its own dangers, its own hard lessons to be learned–becomes a redeeming and surprising journey of self-discovery.

I had this movie on VHS when I was in probably middle school. I loved it so much I kept it, long after VHS players were dead and gone–I don’t know why, I suppose I thought a miracle would occur and it would magically become a Blu-Ray. Because of course, I couldn’t just buy the movie again. I don’t spend money on new stuff like that, duh.

Back then I did not know it was a book, but for some reason this story has found its way back into my life, popping up over and over this year. I found a near perfect hardback copy at a the spring library sale, and since then I’ve seen at least 5 people post about it on Bookstagram. Why? Why the resurgence in White Oleander?

I don’t know the answer, but there’s no question that this book deserves to be read. At the base, it’s a story about a girl being kicked through the foster care system, and all the horrible things that is comprised of. But when you look deeper, Janet Fitch is showing us the intricate and complicated relationships of girls and their mothers–and all the different kinds of mothers there are in the world. It also deals heavily with abuse–both emotional and physical, as well as mental illness, alcoholism, and religion. Unfortunately, it does lose a point for lack of diversity.

Fitch’s narrative is more poetry than prose, and I couldn’t help but fill my journal with her words. If you’re looking for a gorgeous novel with a ton of heart, put this on your tbr.

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