The Poisonous Charm of White Oleander

White Oleander was written by Janet Fitch and published in 1999. While the novel itself is now over 20 years old, its story is both engaging and extremely provoking for its readers. I came across this novel back in high school and it was one of the books I had to read as part of my curriculum. I immediately found myself in love with this book, and I’m going to tell you why.


image via amazon


White Oleander starts off with Astrid Magnussen, a twelve year old girl living with her mom, Ingrid Magnussen, in Santa Ana, California. The opening pages introduce a world of ethereal description that, like Ingrid’s personality, tricks you into sense of calm security. However, that’s when the book startles you with its poison, like the white oleander flower that the book is named after.


While beautiful, this coming-of-age story has some darkness to it, and it’s nothing to casually look over. Astrid finds herself constantly switching foster homes due to unforeseen circumstances, either with herself or with the family that has taken her in. As a result, abuse and grief become center stage as themes in the book. Astrid has to deal with loss after leaving subsequent foster families, and she is forced to find her way through the world essentially alone as she transitions into an emerging young adult.


image via flickr


At the end of the book, we’ve been with Astrid long enough to know who she is, and the person she’s unfortunately become, due to the forced life of moving and the grief she’s experienced after just twelve years. We end with her being 18, and although she finds some comfort and stability, we still are left feeling a bit hollow. The future is uncertain, not only for Astrid, but for ourselves. This is one parallel that the book makes with its readers.


featured image via IMDB


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