White Oleander by Janet Fitch

“Without my wounds who was I?
My scars were my face, my past was my life.”
In White Oleander by Janet Fitch,the above quote perfectly describes the confusion of the main character who is desperately trying to figure out who she is in a world that has seemingly forgotten her.

The main theme of this book is self-discovery. The main character, Astrid Magnussen is trying to discover herself in extreme circumstances. She is trying to survive in a world that she feels has forgotten her. She has to figure out who she is while remembering who she was. She is trying to find a place where she belongs.

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This story is about a girl named Astrid Magnussen. Her poet mother goes to jail after murdering her ex-boyfriend Barry Kolter. Astrid is forced into the strange new world of foster care. She is never sure how long she is going to be in each home and never sure what to expect. In each place she finds different families with new problems and different beliefs that she has previously experienced. She is shifted from place to place and family to family while learning important lessons from each place and learning to cope with all of the damage her mother’s beliefs has done to her life. Her mother can be a very cruel person. She is very possessive about Astrid and doesn’t want anyone else to get close to her and take her away. While in jail the words from her mother prove very damaging to Astrid. Her mother seems to be pleased when Astrid is unhappy. Astrid needs to learn who she is and how to make peace with her mother. She goes from place to place searching for an identity, searching for her past, and searching for the truth.

Believability is one of the best aspects of the book. The characters seem like they could very easily be real people with real emotions. Each one has problems that are commonly seen in today’s world. Marvel ,one of the foster mothers, is a judgmental racist. Claire, Astrid’s favorite foster mother, is in a marriage that makes her depressed, paranoid, and suicidal. Starr, the first foster mother, is a hypocrite. She goes to church every Sunday and talks about how great God is yet she is having an affair with a married man. These situations can be found just about anywhere in today’s society. The character shave real problems that people in the real world are forced to deal with everyday.

Fitch uses language that is absolutely perfect for the individual circumstances. Each different place has it’s own atmosphere and each different atmosphere and living in each atmosphere are people with different accents. She writes each different accent in a way that makes the reader believe what they are reading. The imagery used is beautiful. Each different house is frequently described by the flowers and wildlife surrounding it. The apartment Astrid shared with her mother was surrounded by Oleanders ,a devastatingly beautiful yet deadly flower which Ingrid used in the poison. All of Astrid’s favorite people had gorgeous flowers surrounding them. Smells were also a very important way to describe people. Astrid’s favorite people also had very specific smells. Starr’s boyfriend Ray, who Astrid ended up having an affair with and loved very much, was always described as smelling like dope. Marvel’s black prostitute neighbor, who Astrid became good friends with, smelled like a perfume called Ma Griffe. Astrid’s mother smelled like violets. Claire smelled like L’Air du Temps. Music was another important way of describing people and situations. When some one over at Olivia’s there was always specific music. She listened to the older black singers like Billie Holiday. Rena, the last foster mother listened to classic 70’s rock like The Who, The Grateful Dead, and The Rollingstones. The music that everyone listened to went hand in hand with the kind of person they were.

White Oleander was easy to read in the sense that I could understand all the words and it wasn’t about concepts that are beyond me like brain surgery or rocket science. However from an emotional standpoint, it was difficult top keep reading sometimes. Occasionally I had to put the book down and dry my eyes before I could continue reading. I loved the book because it was about life. It is an easy book to relate to. Anyone who cares about some one else can relate to and fall in love with this book.