A novel chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her book club and made into a movie in 2002, “White Oleander,” breaches the imagination and experiences of a girl, Astrid, coming of age in an ever—changing home environment.
Her mother, Ingrid, is an artist and poet who is suspected of murdering her boyfriend, who has an uncanny hold over her daughter. The control over Astrid is fostered by Ingrid’s intense self-absorption, shown when she frequently forgets she even has a daughter and removes herself from everything but her art.
Due to the disconnections Ingrid induces between Astrid and herself along with the world, Astrid becomes clingy in relationships, resulting in an utter terror of abandonment. Author Janet Fitch examines the reality that Astrid is suddenly exposed to, exploring thought processes and reactions to each situation.
Connecting her thoughts to the reader and explaining everything intricately, Fitch uncovers the difficulty with which a young girl, torn from her mother at a young age, traverses coming of age in strange worlds completely unlike her previous experiences.
With the first foster home, Fitch explores intimate relationships that Astrid has never been exposed to previously. She is instantly pegged as unusual when she falls in love with her foster mother Starr’s boyfriend while Starr tries to tote her to church despite her non-religious upbringing.
Increasing the issues Astrid must deal with, Fitch conveniently throws Starr’s alcoholism and jealousy into the mix, ending that first home stay with Astrid being sent to the hospital with a gunshot wound.
With each new foster home, Fitch focuses on the relationships Astrid tries to develop off of the poor guidelines her mother instilled in her.
These relationships are shown as incomplete and often underdeveloped.
Through all of this drama, Fitch consistently pelts Astrid with the issue of whether to contact her mother, to visit her or just to forget about her. Astrid visited often in the beginning, but as she grows and sees her mother from different eyes, she visits less and less frequently trying to break the hold Ingrid had developed over her.
Letters exchanged between the two show the mother’s and daughter’s creativity and anguish, the way they express their thoughts through poetry and intricate language.
Fitch adequately, and depressingly, portrays the personalities of the characters through their writing, the way they address and react to each other, and the forced interactions they must wade through.
As the novel traverses through Astrid’s life education, Fitch brings the characters to life.
The situations the characters are presented with assert crucial underlying lessons and assess the way relationships can make or break a person.
Staff writer Kelly Bleck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.