I recently read Janet Fitch’s White Oleander for the first time. It was (sadly) the first book I’ve finished since our honeymoon. This summer has been so busy, but with a few days at the beach, I was able to really dive into this novel.

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Let me preface this by saying that yes, I know this book came out awhile ago. Yes, I know it was all the rage back then. No, I didn’t read it when it first came out – my sister and mom did, but I was still too young. When I was home for a visit last time, I grabbed it off the shelf to finally join the club, and I’m so glad I did.

White Oleander tells the story of Astrid Magnussen and mainly focuses on her teenage years – from around age 11 to age 18 or 19. Her eccentric, ethereal mother Ingrid is a poet behind bars after a dramatic turn early in the novel. The story weaves in and out of Los Angeles foster homes where Astrid struggles to find her own identity among the broken pieces of other families – including her own relationship with her mother.

The whole time I was reading this book, I had no idea where the plot was going (if anywhere). I just loved getting lost in the prose. Fitch’s writing is beautiful, and she describes things and uses language in a way I’ve never come across. Her writing is what made me forget that a story even needed a clear direction – I just loved losing myself in her words. It was easy to get absorbed into Astrid’s life, and I couldn’t put the book down because I wanted to see how her life turned out.

I would recommend this book for anyone who needs a story to get lost in, but prepare yourself for some dark themes. It is a gritty yet eloquent novel and not for the faint-of-heart. So yes, Mom, thanks for not letting me read it when I was 8 years old 🙂 I appreciated it much more as a young woman, and I think everyone will be able to relate to at least some of the elements of the book – the complexity of a mother/daughter relationship, the natural human longing for a home, and the struggle to survive your most formative years when the world seems to be turning against you.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Stats: 446 pages
Recommended for: Mature readers who yearn for beautiful words describing devastating circumstances

Up Next: The Girls From Corona Del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

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