Book Review: “White Oleander”


Tacey Trypus

A picture of the front cover of “White Oleander” by Janet Fitch.

Not many books are able to convey as much emotion as “White Oleander,” a coming-of-age story written by Janet Fitch.

Janet Fitch is a third-generation Los Angeles native. She realized she wanted to write fiction after waking up in the middle of the night on her twenty-first birthday. She also is the author of another well-esteemed book titled “Paint It Black.” “White Oleander” originally started as a two paged short story and then became much more shortly after that. 

The book follows the young Astrid Magnussen and her journey through countless foster homes after her mother, a poet, is arrested for the murder of her boyfriend. At every foster home, she tackles many horrible things that somehow make their way to her.

Her relationship with her mother Ingrid is one of the main focus points of the book. In the beginning, she and her mother are inseparable. Astrid gains her passion for art through reading her poems and watching her write. She only lives with her mother, so she isn’t aware of Ingrid’s narcissistic and problematic way of life and parenting. After each foster home, she learns a lesson from her environment about her mother and herself, and how she and her mother’s dynamic is toxic. This causes her to slowly drift away from Ingrid and her ideals and figure out what she wants for herself in life.

“White Oleander” also has a movie adaptation that was released in 2002, three years after the novel’s release. The movie is just as heart-wrenching and emotional. It stars actresses Alison Lohman and Michelle Pfeiffer as the mother-daughter duo, each giving a stunning performance that really brings out the mood of the book. Two of the foster homes that Astrid goes to are left out of the movie, which is the only complaint many people have about the film. 

The book is an excellent way of teaching many lessons about motherhood and how you’re family isn’t always just your blood. It is one that I have reread many times and plan on doing so more in the future. After every time I finish reading the book, it has an even longer-lasting effect on me.