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White Oleander

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  215,796 ratings  ·  5,057 reviews
Oprah Book Club Selection, May 1999: Astrid Magnussen, the teenage narrator of Janet Fitch's engrossing first novel, White Oleander, has a mother who is as sharp as a new knife. An uncompromising poet, Ingrid despises weakness and self-pity, telling her daughter that they are descendants of Vikings, savages who fought fiercely to survive. And when one of Ingrid's boyfriend ...more
Hardcover, 390 pages
Published May 31st 1999 by Little Brown & Co (first published January 1st 1999)
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MidnightMovieGay I think he was, yes. As for the Ingrid leaving Astrid, I don't think it was a postpartum issue. I think Ingrid was always a sociopath and abandoning…moreI think he was, yes. As for the Ingrid leaving Astrid, I don't think it was a postpartum issue. I think Ingrid was always a sociopath and abandoning her daughter was just another terrible thing she's done in a line of many.(less)
Maxine Hawker I found this character very difficult to deal with. I can't recall his exact words but he told Astrid he didn't want this to happen. Are we to believe…moreI found this character very difficult to deal with. I can't recall his exact words but he told Astrid he didn't want this to happen. Are we to believe that Astrid started the relationship and kept it going when she was a child? Paedophiles spruik that rhetoric and these relationships do exist. The perpetrator is not all evil, he is a weak man dominated and controlled so much so that he is able to resist sexual advances albeit from a minor. Astrid is desperate for affection and love and affection. Her upbringing was not permeated with Judeo-Christian moral codes so Astrid's attitude to sex was very free and uninhibited. (I am not saying by any means I condoned her having to sit up and wait for her mother to finish having sex with a lover).(less)
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Community Reviews

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If nothing else, read this book for the language. White Oleander reads like a poem. It's so beautifully crafted.
May 05, 2011 Janet rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
Well, what was I supposed to rate it?
I did work awfully hard on W.O.... still like it. Sad to think Oprah's book club is all over, it was quite an experience.
Christina White
Dark, depressing, disturbing, and so beautiful! When the author described the August summer heat I felt it, like hot breath on my neck. I fell in love with Ingrid and her beauty and ideas of the world. Then I became Astrid, and I felt how much she loved her and how bad it hurt to also hate her, but hate Ingrid I did! I would walk away from long reading sessions feeling hardened and detached. It's not an easy read, but I find literature that can make me feel so strongly well deserving of praise. ...more
I have many thoughts that I'm having trouble putting into words. Before reading the final chapter of the book, I had to put it down, lean my head back against the couch and think about the experience I've had while reading this book. Astrid's journey, her development from girl to woman, is remarkably crafted. Fitch's writing paints the arid desert and mountain brush in such fine detail. Atmospherically, this story was superb. I was totally immersed in the story, in the physical spaces that Astri ...more
Jan 15, 2008 Matt rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sad girls
this is a horrifying book, not necessarily for the story's content (which IS horrifying), but for it's plot, execution, characterization, and particularly its overcooked writing.

some observations:

1) astrid. the novel's protagonist, a fourteen year old girl, is a thoroughly contradictory character. some people have written that astrid is not your 'average' teenage girl and that she is 'gifted.' if she were such a girl, i would expect much more of her. i'm not a psychologist nor have i ever been
Nov 26, 2007 Jessica rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: secret members of oprah's book club
There must be a reason why I've been able to recall many of the books I've read over the years, but that it took me until one of my most restless and procrastibatory nights in front of the blank Word doc to dredge this one up from the recesses of memory, even though I read it within the past year or two.

I'm pretty sure I know what that reason is, too: it's because on some level I'm embarrassed that I read this book, and that I actually really liked it.

I'm pretty sure I know where that embarrassm
This is Astrid’s story.

We meet her first when she is twelve and in Ingrid’s (her mother) care.

Ingrid is a woman of such rare, unearthly beauty as to be most likely found in dreams.

Fitch describes her through Astrid’s eyes, gradually, poetically, using very sparse language, as the story unfolds, with words that sing, the pages glistening with the image reflected from her eyes.

The Santa Anas blew in hot from the desert, shrivelling the last of the spring grass into whiskers of pale straw. Only the
Jan 12, 2013 Megan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Megan by: Aunt Amy Jane
Shelves: favorites
My aunt bought me this book for Christmas one year and at first I was really disappointed. I thought "Oh, that's nice... because I like to read you just got me the Oprah book club book of the month... thanks." But then I read it, and I'm now convinced that my aunt knows me better than maybe many of my close friends or better than I know myself. Not to be all cheesy and over-identify with something that isn't about me; but this book REALLY hit home for me in describing my relationship with my mot ...more
helen the bookowl
Wow, this is a BEAUTIFUL MASTERPIECE and an intelligent and heartbreaking, true and honest story.
When I was about 100 pages into the book, I already knew that this was going to be a new favourite of mine. Now that I've finished it, I can honestly say that this is one of the most raw books I've ever read.
What strikes me the most about this story is the impeccable writing style. The main character, Astrid, tells the story in a very impressionistic way and it was beautiful! Janet Fitch has a way
Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
I had heard previously how good/bad this book is. Most people have been powerfully affected by it. They either really liked it or really disliked it. After reading it, I could see how it could sway you in either ways. You could either take the story at face value and be swayed by it, as I did, or you could critically analyze it and call upon its credibility.

My opinion
Janet Fitch writes White Oleander in a very eloquent style. Poetic writing is not some thing I enjoy usually (since I'm pathetic i
This is my all time favorite book. I love the character Astrid, and enjoyed seeing her played by Alison Lohman in the movie. I wish there were more books like this one.
I can't forget her story. It's like a precise etching tatooed on the center of my brain. Her pain is my pain, her fears are my fears, her life...becomes mine. I take every word from her illustrated existance, using it as my own bible to crawl through this enraged wilderness where the grass is made of needles, the trees are crawling with serpants, and the water is too tanged to drink....
I taste the saltiness of her tears as they stream down her face, burning, leaving behind scars of inevitable
Gritted my teeth to get through this and see what happened. The story itself is interesting, but the writing was so fussy and melodramatically overwrought that I wanted to toss the book away. Kept going only because I wanted to understand people's strong response to it.
Due in part, perhaps, to the influx of "unfortunate teenage girl" novels in the mid-to-late nineties (I think here of books like _She's Come Undone_ and _The Virgin Suicides_), I avoided Fitch's book for a while (the Oprah's Book Club stigma also contributed). And while the story line did manage to keep me up and at it until 2 am last night, I must say: I'm unconvinced.

Also, spoilers. I don't review books to keep them a secret from people who haven't read them; I review them to share my opinion
Aug 26, 2008 Kelly rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: enemies
Recommended to Kelly by: Oprah
I only wish there were a star less than one. I wish I could remove stars. I wish there were a star deficit rating.

This book almost made me give up reading all together. It is definitely the last book I trusted from Oprah. I still think she owes me money and those days of my life back.

It was page after page of the most depressing writing I've ever read with absolutely no pay off.
S.R. Grey
Edit--re-read March 2013

One of the best books I've ever read...still. In fact...

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The writing is very descriptive, lyrical and poetic. The metaphors (and there are a lot) are spot on-perfect. I highlighted s-o-o-o many passages, and they hit me every time I re-read them.
The story itself is dark and often depressing in the examination of a young girl's relationship with her disturbed mother, and her subsequent journey through the foster care system. And though her mother is cruel, I swear she has
I am normally exceedingly wary of anything that Oprah puts her mark on and avoid it like the plague. However, after years of being recommended this book by many people who's opinions on such things I respect I finally pulled it off the bookshelf. Let me be the first to tell you: I have never been more appreciative of my friends. This book was phenomenal!

Following the trials and tribulations of one Astrid Magnusson, the book takes you first from her idyllic life with her poet/ice queen mother, I
Oct 29, 2015 TL rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to TL by: Caroline
A work of art of a novel with complex characters. Slow paced at times but I was never bored. I love how the author wasn't afraid to show Ingrid's dark side and not shy away from it... or to show Astrid in different lights.

Not a novel for everyone (I didn't expect to love it) but I highly recommend trying it.
After hearing so much about this Oprah-acclaimed book, I finally sat down to read it. The plot had some major potential and I was getting really interested, right when the protagonist landed in a horrible foster home where she began an illicit affair with her foster mom's 40-year-old boyfriend (did i mention the main character is about 14?). The author vividly describes the sexual details of this relationship, as well as the mom and boyfriend's bedroom behaviors. If that wasn't enough, the day t ...more
White Oleander is a very unique and amazing piece of literature. The novel is beautifully written with a passionate and enthralling plot and incredibly vivid descriptions which make it easy for the reader to visualise every person and place Astrid encounters. I was overwhelmed and deeply touched by Janet Fitch's wonderful prose, the intensity of her descriptions, and the incredible insight into each of her characters. I adored the protagonist, Astrid. I cried with her, sobbed with her and laughe ...more
One of the most beautiful writing styles I have come across. White Oleander is truthful. It does not hold back nor censor the events of young Astrid's life. A broken mother, a poet, an aesthete who cannot overcome her passions. A child pushed into an adult life, a man's world. Feminism, survivalism, religion. Family. A plethora of captivating themes and allusions. I felt as if I'd become Astrid herself. Janet Fitch has written a work of art.


Re-read this for a writing project. Still brilliant,
J. Trott
This book is the tale of a girl with a warrior poetess for a mother. When her mother kills a boyfriend and is imprisoned the girl is thrown into California's foster care system. There she experiences ignorance, abuse, and need, and love in equal measure, and tries to grow up, while struggling with her anger with her mother for abandoning her.

Orphans generally make sympathetic protagonists. One can't help but hope things will get better for someone who has lost everything, who is at the bottom o
I feel like at this moment I can't rate it because I need to collect some feelings. But more to come
Xavier Guillaume
Jul 08, 2012 Xavier Guillaume rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those not afraid to cry
Recommended to Xavier by: Rahdne
White Oleander. Oleander is a beautiful flower. It's whiteness suggests a pure, innocent quality, but it is anything but innocent. Oleander is an extremely poisonous plant, and it works as a good symbol of Astrid's mother Ingrid. Ingrid is extremely beautiful, blonde, pale, tall, graceful. She makes men's heads turn. But she is also wrathful, manipulative, and a murderer. It's hard to see the good in Ingrid, but this book is so complex that the lines between good and bad blur.

What is known is th
This book was an escape from my usual paranormal smut and urban fantasy adventures, and it is so worth the change in scenery. I had to read the book for my Vulnerable Children class, where I am learning about the child welfare system. It was a poignant tale of one girl’s tumultuous journey through the foster care system and will no doubt leave your jaw hanging on many occasion. As a human being, you will be horrified at the life that Astrid must endure after her mother is sent to prison for murd ...more
Janet Fitch has an amazing gift for writing novels centered around protagonists that are flawed and scarred, while at the same time making her audience identify with and even love these characters because of their imperfections. Take Astrid, the main character of White Oleander. At the beginning of the story, Astrid's mother goes to jail for poisoning an ex-boyfriend and Astrid is placed in a series of foster homes. During the course of the story, Astrid sleeps with her foster father (at age thi ...more
Jun 05, 2008 Beth rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
I don't read many books that I end up throwing across the room in disgust as I'm reading them.
This was one.
What is UP with adults writing about children in disgusting ways? If it's suppose to be artsy, well, I just didn't get it. And I'm not sure that I would want to.
Once in a long while do you come across such a book that's a sheer pleasure to read. Every line, every word, so perfect and such poetry. I'm a sucker for good prose (even if the story is hardly there!) and this is just my kind of book. And to think this is the author's debut novel. Bravo!

I loved Astrid Magnussen. I hated Ingrid Magnussen. The 3 days it took me to read the book, I was living with Astrid. The string of foster homes, the good ones and the bad. When she ached for her mother, I was t
Amy Pilkington
My favorite book of all time! Have read it like 12 times. So beautifully written the imagery seeps of the page and echoes in your brain long after you have closed the pages. I know that I am perhaps the only one that notices this but I am deeply enamored with the way Janet (the author, when you have read a book more than a dozen times you get to call the author by their first name) constructs sentences, I can't help but notice her grammar, sentence fluency, and word choice. The way she can write ...more
Do you remember that episode of Friends when Rachel convinces Joey to read "Little Women," and when he gets to the part of the book where Beth gets sick Joey wants to put the book in the freezer? That is totally how I felt while reading this book. Every tragedy that Astrid endured, every foster home she went to that turned out to be less than nurturing, I didn't think I could continue reading and I just wanted to put the book in the freezer! But Fitch's artful storytelling kept me glued, and I s ...more
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Janet Fitch was born in Los Angeles, a third-generation native, and grew up in a family of voracious readers. As an undergraduate at Reed College, Fitch had decided to become an historian, attracted to its powerful narratives, the scope of events, the colossal personalities, and the potency and breadth of its themes. But when she won a student exchange to Keele University in England, where her pas ...more
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Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. 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.” 2218 likes
“Always learn poems by heart. They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they'll make your soul impervious to the world's soft decay.” 643 likes
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