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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I have read in 2000!
I cannot recommend this novel highly enough, and would encourage anyone who can appreciate a well written novel to buy this book. Considering this is Janet Fitch's first novel, it is an amazing piece of literature which keeps you spellbound from beginning to end.
The narrator, Astrid, tells her story of being brought up by a hippie artistic and headstrong mother who...
Published on 3 Dec. 2000 by OllyOctopus

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerful imagery ... yet ...
Since I work in a bookstore, I know that when Oprah speaks, her viewers listen. Thus, I set out to read WHITE OLEANDER.
While Janet Fitch created wondrous metaphors and similes throughout the story, in my opinion, she went overboard with them--thus, they lost their effectiveness for me. In fact, they quickly became a distraction. In this case, less would have...
Published on 6 Jun. 1999


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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I have read in 2000!, 3 Dec. 2000
This review is from: White Oleander (Paperback)
I cannot recommend this novel highly enough, and would encourage anyone who can appreciate a well written novel to buy this book. Considering this is Janet Fitch's first novel, it is an amazing piece of literature which keeps you spellbound from beginning to end.
The narrator, Astrid, tells her story of being brought up by a hippie artistic and headstrong mother who kills her boyfriend out of revenge. When Ingrid is imprisoned, the story moves on to Astrid's experiences in foster care. The neglect and abuse Astrid receives are described without being oversentimental and therefore, the reader is engrossed and completely torn by these scenes.
the fact that Astrid survives the experiences shows her strength of character which is an excellent reason to read the book. However, I was also facinated by the descriptions of the American care system as well.
If you only read one book next year, read White Oleander.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncomfortable yet compelling reading, 29 Feb. 2004
By A Customer
I heard about White Oleander while watching Oprah: she had it as one of the books in her book club and gave away copies to the audience members on the show. I only caught the end, but the book had obviously affected her a great deal, so when I saw it some time later I bought it. The cover showed beautiful blonde women and they stared at me for along time before I finally picked up the book.
Once having started it, however, I could hardly put it down. So far removed from my own life, the story of Astrid as she makes her life journey from the side of a beautiful but murdering mother through a succession of disconcerting families as a child in care, was at times difficult to bear. Yet it was a story I felt I should read and it is in that light I am recommending White Oleander: a book which simply must be read. Uncomfortable at times, compelling always.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Written with perseptive beauty., 22 Oct. 2003
By 
White Oleander is a passionate, hypnotic and dangerous novel, exploring un-spoken themes of today's tangled world.
Janet Fitch tells the moving and complicated story of Astrid, a child raised in a potent world of beauty and destruction. Her mother, a twisted and un-earthly artist raises her daughter into this potent world, before emotionally torturing and murdering her former lover, thus leaving Astrid alone and vulnerable. “White Oleander” explores Astrid’s emotional journey through countless foster homes, where she faces incest, murder and, above all, her own powerful mind.
But is not just the twisted, shocking plot which makes this novel un-missable. Fitch writes with tragic passion and charisma, making the characters and their broken worlds dance with life and colour. Each different part of Astrid’s slow clamber to adulthood evokes such empathy and impact, it is virtually impossible not to become addicted.
Although the plot at times becomes very complicated, this book explores love, loss, lust and life, looking at how we can as humans adapt and change over time.
However unbelievable it may seem, this story somehow really made an impact to me personally, making me look at the situations around me in a different way. Fitch makes the book especially enjoyable, by combining a high lexis and sentence structure with beautifully descriptive use of language. Her style makes the whole novel exceptionally pleasurable to read, as her selective use of verbs and adjectives helps us as readers to build up a vivid picture of the unfolding and intriguing life of a strong young ‘lady’. The book rapidly changes from an everyday story into a colourful bible for the aspiring artist in all of us.
In short, I think “White Oleander” is an original and wonderful piece of modern literature. It combines everything I enjoy in a book: wonderfully likable characters, a compelling plot and bags of stylish language technique. Throughout the book, I didn’t want the novel to end. I strongly recommend this compelling book to all e readers, as I think everybody should experience Janet Fitch’s captivating account of life and how truly lucky we are.
Review by Heidi-Victoria Ireland,
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding vibrant journey�, 25 Nov. 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: White Oleander (Paperback)
I was given a pack of rather samey books recently of which White Oleander was one. I left them stacked up and thought I would read them at some point but had no idea when...then the flu struck and these books became my only source of entertainment for a week or two. As soon as I picked up White Oleander, I was entranced by the vibrancy, and stark beauty of Astrid's life before and after her mother's incarceration.
This story has a remarkable thread, one you hope you can witness forever...hoping the book wont end, but end it does! Unlike many books, where promising beginnings lead to dull middles and ends, the splendor of White Oleander continues until the end, inspiring creative thought and feelings of rapture!!!! Just wonderful!
More please Janet!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking, inspiring and empowering, 18 Feb. 2004
I picked this novel up in a charity shop, having only heard of it previously as an item on Oprah's book list. It was the best 50p I ever spent. It's an enthralling story of the daughter of a very vain and selfish woman who murders a former lover. Astrid's life in foster care after her mother goes to prison is heartbreaking. She suffers such cruelty but manages to keep her head above water and learn many lessons it would take most of us a lifetime to learn. Her strength is inspiring. It's an eye-opening look at what can happen to an innocent child when a parent lives only for themselves. I didn't want the book to end.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 5 April 2003
By 
This review is from: White Oleander (Paperback)
Put simply, White Oleander is an amazing book. I read it because after reading some of the 'lists' on Amazon, I realised that many people who had appreciated similar books to me had enjoyed it. I was not prepared however for the intensity and wonder of this novel, and am thoroughly surprised that Janet Fitch has not written more novels. For its 500 or so pages, White Oleander is firstly a tiny looking book, and more to the point, one that can be read in a fairly short amount of time, mainly due to the fact that the reader is unable to put it down.
Firstly, the language is amazing, thoughtful and thought provoking. Astrid, the main character, has a deep relationship based on the admiration and dependence of her mother, a poet. She grows up, fatherless, with her mother the poet as her only guardian and, being intelligent, and eager to learn herself, she naturally inherits and develops her mother's talent for use of words and perceptive outlook of the world. All is going swimmingly until her mother is incarcerated for life, and Astrid's safe and almost predictable world is taken away and she is forced to face up to the reality of life by passing from foster home to foster home, where in each case she gains an insight into the everyday life of a huge variety of families and institutions.
The way Fitch enables the reader to thoroughly know and understand Astrid is impeccable, and unlike many novels where several characters means the reader is confused, in White Oleander, the characters and families are so well defined that the reader understands exactly how each has played a part in the life education of Astrid. Each of the many characters is totally distinguished and essential to the story. Another huge merit of Fitch's work is the way Astrid grows from child to adult through the book, with no part of life missed, yet the story flows so naturally that the reader hardly notices this is happening. The reader is, in this way, able to thoroughly relate to Astrid and her experiences.
I would recommend this book to absolutely anyone who appreciates beautiful and insightful language and a deeper insight into life experience.
Altogether, a thoroughly satisfying reading experience.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Who was I, really?" she asks. "I was the sole occupant of my mother's totalitarian state...", 26 Jan. 2014
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: White Oleander (Paperback)
“The body is the only reality,” thinks Astrid, as she watches over her friend who is giving birth, to a baby she knows she will have to give up for adoption. “I hurt therefore I am.”

This is a book filled with pain and hurt, real hurt, the kind that makes you ache in your mind as well as your body. It’s not a book you will like very much, but it is a book you won’t be able to stop reading and in the end you’ll be glad you got to read it. You want very much to come upon a phrase that tells you that the protagonist has received some balm, some safety, some calm. This is an intensely realistic book that tells you of a child and her mother. The mother is a poet – and a kind of monster of self absorption. Her mistake is to believe she can get away with murder when her boyfriend throws her out. She will not rest until she has taken revenge. Astrid is a child and she is the one who pays when her mother is taken into custody. Now begins the trial of being a foster child. In one foster home the children are housed apart from their foster parents and consider themselves lucky if they are fed once a day. In another home, Astrid is attacked by neighbourhood dogs and badly scarred. In another she is shot by the jealous mother in whose care she has been left. I’m not going to say much more about the plot because to dwell on it inevitably reduces what can be said about misfortune of this kind.

Astrid’s mother is in prison throughout this book, but she is a presence who cannot be denied. Her notoriety dogs Astrid’s footsteps and poisons her life. As she grows older Astrid learns to acquiesce in what she cannot control. It is a dreadful lesson that does not always stand her in good stead. This is an unrelentingly dark book, as tense and expectant as any thriller, and as beautifully presceient and gorgeously written as a book of found poetry. Fitch never overwrites, she has a fantastic sense of how to work a story to the bone. Her prose is rich and delicate. It is hypnotic, challenging, complex, and moving. I recommend this book wholeheartedly. It takes you by the guts and makes you want to cry, but it is shorn of sentiment and self-pity. Read it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, 1 Aug. 2013
This review is from: White Oleander (Paperback)
I loved this book the first time I read it, so much that I have read it couteless times over the years. If I had only read the book once, at 15, I would have complained about the fact I could only give it 5 stars, I no longer have that problem and ideally I would like to give a 3.5 rating, purely because of the hours of enjoyment I have had since purchasing this book. Without those hours and my understanding of the book now I would have probably given it 2 stars. This is a book that I enjoy but don't particularly think is amazing, yet I cannot stop myself from picking ip up and reading it over and over again.

White Oleander is a vastly unrealistic novel in which Janet Fitch uses tragedy like a crutch to hold up her melodramatic trainwreck of a plot and cliche characters. She drowns all that is good about the book with incessant melodrama and unnecessary angst.

The descriptions are wondrous and at times you can almost feel that you are right there in the book experiencing what Janet Fitch describes to you in so much detail, this is not to say that the prose is not overdone because it is. The metaphors and similes go on and on and on and on and on and on.... you get the picture.

The novel's protagonist, Astrid, contradicts herself continuously throughout the book, which becomes quite irritating to say the least. Think of yourself as a fourteen year old female - or of a fourteen year old female you know - and tell me if you would not feel somewhat traumatised or emotionally scarred by the things which occur within Astrid's life? You would, no normal human being wouldn't! Yet Astrid is all good and dandy? Give me a break. She then grows up and deals with more and more misery as the years go by. Why was she never couselled as she should have been? Why was this never even recommended? For some reason Fitch seems to think that if something awful doesn't happen to Astrid at least once a chapter then nobody will continue reading which is a shame because by trying to keep the reader gripped she ruined what could have been a pretty decent novel.

Also Fitch seems determined to paint the world as being a "Man's World". She does this by painting every female character as being too fragile, unstable and volatile and deeply, deeply flawed to ever succeed in making it a "Woman's World". The men in the story however come away from it all blameless and somewhat sensitive.

Best character in the book? Olivia, the prostitute. Because at least she doesn't feel the need to make a big song and dance about everything and fill the pages with yet more aimless poetic BS.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hypnotic and lyrical, 30 April 2012
By 
R. A. Davison (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: White Oleander (Paperback)
Late one night some years ago, I left the TV on and the film adaptation of Janet Fitch's White Oleander starring Michelle Pfeiffer came on. I initially thought 'I'll get up and switch that off in a minute' only to find myself oddly transfixed and absorbed by it. I meant to read the book and then kept remembering and forgetting its existence as is sometimes the way with these things.

The books protagonist is twelve year old Astrid Magnusson, her mother is Ingrid Magnusson. Ingrid is a self absorbed, imperious, narcissistic poet with an odd set of rules as to what makes any person she comes across 'a person of value'. She simultaneously neglects and controls Astrid, forgetting she exists most of the time and then attempting to mould her at others. Astrid lives in her shadow but also in a bizarre communion with her. Suddenly, the true extent of Ingrid's emotional imbalance is revealed when she kills her ex boyfriend Barry for having the temerity to reject her and is sent to prison.

The bulk of the novel now begins and concerns Astrid's journey through the care system, traipsing through a succession of foster homes and schools. Most of the placements are shockingly unsuitable and Astrid who has never really been allowed her own personality, has to try and be someone else for each new family. Though Ingrid is incarcerated, her ability to psychologically bully Astrid and manipulate her from afar continues. Ingrid is truly a chilling villain, not over-written so as to become pantomime but written in such a way as to make you feel she is truly a sociopath, without regard for others. Even from her prison cell she continues to damage Astrid whilst claiming to care for her, and, to manipulate the world at large into seeing her as the victim. She is a truly intriguing character.

The blurb on the back calls the book hypnotic and I have to lend my voice in agreement to that. It has a really lyrical quality and it engaged me from the outset. It is often grim, and frequently depressing but not in a way that makes you despair of it. You are interested enough in the character outcomes to continue. There is some excellent dialogue too. I also liked that the conclusion was open ended, will Astrid finally physically and psychologically break free from Ingrid, or will she again succumb to the machinations of the puppet master? 7/10
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4.0 out of 5 stars Compulsive Reading, 25 Jan. 2012
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: White Oleander (Paperback)
An addictive read, and brilliant, sometimes rather horrifying examination of the foster-care system in America.

Astrid grows up looked after by her hippie single mother Ingrid, a Swedish-American poet, who she adores. But when Ingrid finally loses control of her wild temper and murders a lover who has cruelly dumped her, Astrid is on her own, passed from foster home to foster home. She spends a year with Starr, a former topless dancer turned Born-Again-Christian and her family, and bonds with the woman's quiet and studious son, but her time there is over when she falls for the ex-dancer's carpenter boyfriend (she is both looking for a father and a lover) and Starr tries to shoot her. She is used as cheap labour by a vile suburban housewife called Marvel (and thrown out when she befriends the next door neighbour, an African-American escort come prostitute), and is treated almost as a prisoner by an Argentinian aristocrat who has a whole host of foster girls working for her. Her troubles appear to be at an end when a caring case-worker finds a home for her with kind and sensitive former actress Clare Richards. But Clare is a depressive whose marriage is on the rocks, and Astrid's odyssey is not over... All the way through her troubled teenage years, Astrid is kept going by her skill as an artist, and it is this that gives her the strength in the end to make her own way, and to finally challenge Ingrid about their life together and what Ingrid did.

This is a wonderfully vivid novel, with a host of larger-than-life characters. The atmosphere of California is vividly brought to life, in all its variety, and Fitch is particularly good at writing about emigre culture in West Coast America. Astrid is an enjoyable narrator, and Fitch writes very well about her art and how it sustains her through some very hard times. I just wish we'd had a little bit more about her life in Berlin after she decided to leave California, and her relationship with Paul, another foster-child artist. And I would have also liked to learn a bit more about Ingrid, about whom Fitch (and Astrid) were ambiguous. I found the lover that Ingrid murders a bit too grotesque for me to be convinced she would have killed him, and found the relationship between Ingrid and Clare later a tiny bit unbelievable - Ingrid suddenly started behaving like an arch villainess. Were we meant to regard Ingrid as psychotic or actually to sympathize with her? It was quite hard to tell, sometimes.

Ten out of ten for a good, gripping read though - this is a book that it's very hard to put down.
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White Oleander
White Oleander by Janet Fitch (Paperback - 2 Nov. 2000)
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