|Author: Janet Fitch|
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: May 1, 2000
Genre: Literary Fiction
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"Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space... The best you'll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way." -White Oleander
Astrid is a young girl that lives with her poet mother, Ingrid. Ingrid is beautiful and cynical and tries to teach Astrid how to manipulate men to get what she wants. One day Ingrid is arrested for murdering one of her lovers and Astrid is thrust into the world of the Los Angeles foster care system. While Ingrid is spending life in prison, Astrid is bounced around to multiple homes where she must learn to take care of herself, protect herself, and how to dream her own dreams. She realizes what her mother tried to teach her was true, that some people cannot be trusted, but also, that her mother was wrong in so many ways.
"Love is temperamental. Tiring. It makes demands. Love uses you, changes its mind. But, hatred, now that's something you can use. Sculpt. Wield. It's hard or soft, however you need it. Love humiliates you, but hatred cradles you." -White Oleander
This book is terrifying to read as an adult with children, but also hard to look away. Astrid is a very relatable character because she is going through a time in her life when she realizes that the sun does rise and set on her mother. In fact, she learns that her mother isn't even a good person. Astrid struggles with her love and detest for the person who should have been taking care of her but threw Astrid away for revenge on a man that Ingrid had convinced Astrid was insignificant. I love how this book explores the mother/ daughter relationship. It's such an extremely complicated relationship that is rarely written about in such depth. Astrid is exposed to 5 mothers. 5 different lifestyles. 5 sets of rules. 5 experiences that help shape her into the adult she becomes. Are all of her experiences good? Heck no! Astrid is exposed to drugs, prostitution, violence, sexual predators, and severe mental illness among other things while in the care of these mothers. But she ultimately learns about each woman is that they are people. And every person has a personal agenda, even when they are supposed to be completely selfless and self-sacrificing. Whether we want to admit it or not, our mother(s) influence is always present in each of us.
The only problem I could see with this book was the dramatic nature of the writing. Astrid's voice is so wordy but beautiful. She's very mature and thinks in metaphors and in the abstract. She's moody and overthinks the simplest of things. She also is impulsive and melodramatic; the best example is cutting all her hair off in the bathroom of the group home. Astrid is not that likeable and she doesn't want to be. But if you have ever been around foster kids, they can be that way. Pushing everyone away. She's frustrating to read from because she makes stupid decisions, and she knows they are stupid while she is making them. But the story and the growth is worth it if you can get past the voice of an arrogant, moody, broken teen.
All in all, White Oleander, is one of those books that has dug itself a space in my brain. It's one of those books I set apart from the pack and compare all others to it. I still think about Astrid and wonder if I am screwing up my daughter as much as Ingrid did Astrid? If you love Contemporary or Literary Fiction novels that deal with dark and difficult topics, then this book should be on the top of your list. 5 stars.