Rachel's Reviews > White Oleander

White Oleander by Janet Fitch
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's review
Sep 07, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction
Read in February, 2010

White Oleander was truly a rich tapestry. Fitch wove us, not only into the viscereal, physical landscape of Los Angeles, Mexico, Amsterdam and other places from Astrid's memory, but also into her protagonist's evolving emotional state as the daughter of a woman convicted of murder, placed in foster care.

It's definitely one of those books that surpasses the movie adaptation. Astrid's life is so much more fleshed out, more foster homes, more personal growth, more pain and rebirth. It's interesting how the movie gave off the impression that, by and large, Astrid and Ingrid spent their entire lives in LA, but the book moved them around the world, constantly chasing culture and Ingrid's pretentious, self-serving vision of an artist's life. Ingrid was an amazing villain, so self-possessed, so confident, living in this metaphoric dream world populated by literary artists, where she did not have to face the mundane details of what she had done. And Astrid's journey, from 12 to 18, was amazing, from Ingrid's shadow to, painstakingly, her own, realized person. A book definitely worth 400 pages!

One thing I was shocked about in the book was that Ingrid was ultimately acquited of the murder (which she actually did commit.) Then again, in both book and movie, I never did exactly get a tangible picture of what exactly went down with Barry- probably because Astrid was so young and not present for every detail. At the heart of it, of course, is being poisoned by the oleander, the tough flower that can withstand anything, and is a constant metaphor for the Mangussens and their ability to survive despite (and at the cost of) others.

One complaint I have about Fitch's amazing writing (seriously, to span from city descriptions to foster care 101 to art history and emotional growth...truly amazing) was her over-use of similies. A lot of them, particularly about Olivia, I found, stretched the line a little and took away from the narrative. As mentioned, Fitch had a lot of material to cram into this novel, and I think she did just fine with describing the facts and sensations, straight up.

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