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White Oleander

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3.95  ·  Rating details ·  267,327 Ratings  ·  6,419 Reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 446 pages
Published September 1st 2001 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 1999)
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Marion Marshall I think Ray's "relationship" (PEDOPHILIA) with Astrid would have made a much better addition to the novel if it had been handled more skillfully.…moreI think Ray's "relationship" (PEDOPHILIA) with Astrid would have made a much better addition to the novel if it had been handled more skillfully. Fitch seemed to excuse Ray's actions because Astrid was ~~more mature~~ than the average child (WHICH IS AN EXCUSE PEDOPHILES USE) but at no point in the novel did she ever offer an opinion or reflection that countered that notion. It would have been fine if Astrid had gone on believing that the relationship was sweet and loving even though it was irresponsible on Ray's part (and yes, entirely his fault). All Fitch needed to do was provide a nod to the reader that, "Hey, Astrid thinks one thing, but here's REALITY"; the reality is that pedophilia is never excusable. The power imbalance between a child and an adult means that the relationship can never be consensual.

Fuck anyone who says otherwise.(less)
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)
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The BOOK was BETTER than the MOVIE
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Community Reviews

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Faith-Anne
Jan 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
If nothing else, read this book for the language. White Oleander reads like a poem. It's so beautifully crafted.
Crumb
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a masterful yarn about a complex relationship between mother and daughter. It was about the loss of self, the journey of finding oneself, and most importantly - the resilience of the human spirit. This wasn't a tale of any ordinary bond between mother and daughter, this was a story of the severe dysfunction that occurs when a mother, Ingrid, is imprisoned for murder and a daughter, Astrid, is passed around like garbage from one foster home to another. This novel explores the intricacies ...more
Janet
May 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
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
Arah-Lynda
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top, i-said, killer-prose
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
...more
Maxwell
Nov 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
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
Matt
Jan 14, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: sad girls
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Luffy
Apr 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition


I am appalled by the worldview presented in this book. Yet the circumstances surrounding Ingrid, a poetess who goes to prison for murder are so artificial!

I don't want to squirm when I'm reading, and I read for pleasure. Is there a market for books like this? Of course there is. And I've got nothing against people who like this book. But should they lap it up like it's licorice?

The book is also about foster homes and what can go wrong. I just don't think that the author should be so fake in her
...more
Jessica
Nov 26, 2007 rated it liked it
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
...more
Vanessa
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-my-bookshelf
What exquisite writing, never have I read a book that speaks so beautifully but also describes pain so acutely. Astrid becomes a ward of the state after her mother commits a crime of passion and is imprisoned. Although her mother is behind bars, Astrid cannot shake her mother's deep hold on her. Her mother, beautiful Nordic Ingrid Magnussen. A true seductress a woman who can weave a web of destruction with her beauty, poetry and words, people fall in love with her, men in particular, she is dang ...more
Elizabeth
White Oleander follows the story of Astrid, a young girl who is shuttled from one foster home to another while her mother serves a life sentence in prison.

I'm reading this for the second time, and it remains one of my favourite books ever. It is as beautiful and dreamy as it is bleak and raw. The Los Angeles setting is gorgeous, blissful, and yet terribly unforgiving. I was so totally immersed in this story from start to finish, and I would think about it longingly when I was off doing other thi
...more
Helene Jeppesen
Dec 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Debbie "DJ"
Jun 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, own
This is some of the most beautiful writing I've ever encountered. It reminds me a little bit of Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. It's language is deep and satisfying. The mother daughter relationship told in an almost mythical way. Loved it!
Michael
Jun 10, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
...more
Megan
Jan 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Rebecca Foster
Man, that Oprah knows how to pick ’em! This was a terrific read; I’m not sure why I’d never gotten to it before. I read huge chunks during my travel to the States and then slowed down quite a bit, which was a shame because it meant I felt less connected to Astrid’s later struggles in the foster care system. It’s an atmospheric novel full of oppressive Los Angeles heat and a classic noir flavor that shades into gritty realism as it goes on, taking us from when Astrid is 12 to when she’s a young w ...more
Lisa Vegan
It took me forever to sit down and write this review. I never wait this long after finishing a book to post some sort of review. I’ve just given up and realized it’s impossible for me to do justice to the book. It’s a full 5 star rating from me, though not (yet?) on my favorites shelf, maybe because the ending seemed a bit truncated/rushed to me; I wanted to know a bit more.

This one wrecked me, it wiped me out, it was gut wrenching. I loved it. It’s my kind of book. Thanks to GR friend Caroline
...more
Britany
Mar 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
White Oleander packs a powerful punch to your emotional psyche. Almost as soon as I started this book, I was swept away by the writing. Astrid Magnussan- just a beautiful wisp of a newly minted teenager watches as her mom spirals downward and loses control, ending up in prison. Astrid finds herself in Foster care and the story takes us on the path that soon defines Astrid's life. Home after home, fancy prostitues, starvation, to suicidal thoughts. This book does not shy away from the dark and gr ...more
Skye Skye
Apr 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Exquisite, provocative, melodious novel spun by author Janet Fitch, artistic with the English language. White Oleander is an epoch/pastoral poem in the guise of a novel, a Romantic's dream, a Metaphysical masterpiece and yet underneath the beauty of language lies a gritty, edgy story of pain, lost hope, longing, desire and need; it is a journey of redemption often meeting with despair, broken glass and scars; it is a voyage of self-discovery and quintessential decisions that leave the reader uns ...more
Niya
Aug 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kelly
Jul 09, 2008 rated it did not like it
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.
Ananda
Feb 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Cat
Jul 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: escapism, meh
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
...more
Chloe
Jun 15, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
...more
S.R. Grey
Edit--re-read March 2013

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

 photo tumblr_mbswavveUu1r83eiuo1_500_zpsea9ccfee.gif

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
...more
Madeline
Sep 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Aoibhínn
Aug 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
TL
Oct 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Rebecca McNutt
Jun 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, family, women-s
Gripping from the beginning to the end, White Oleander is destined to become a classic and there are definitely none like it out there. :)
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47,292 followers
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.” 2574 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.” 755 likes
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