If you were not aware, I am on another 50 books in a year challenge. The rules are that they need to come from the library in the category they assigned, so that we can expand our horizons.
One of the categories was a book club book, and to participate in the discussion. Problem is I live in cowland, Idaho with one book club…at the library…that meets when I work. So, a loophole needed to be found. That’s how I figured I would read White Oleander by Janet Fitch. On its cover, it proclaimed to be part of the Oprah Book Club, and this is how I am participating in the discussion: a blog post. So, let’s get to it:
(One side note, I owned this book. And I have no idea where it came from)
White Oleander follows a young girl, Astrid, as she hops around the foster care system while her mother serves time in prison for murdering her ex-boyfriend. Each home she goes to presents new problems, new trials, and new opportunities for her to learn about herself.
This story was, like, the ultimate nightmare of a foster child. But let’s start with her mother. In another online book club I looked into (found here), someone speculated that Ingrid, Astrid’s mother, is only pleased when everyone is in pain. This is shown through her own internal torture of being an artist. She aims to make Astrid an exact mold of herself, to suffer for her art. And when her ex-lover becomes happy away from her, she kills him. Now, for this last part, I have something to add. In my opinion, she recognized that she didn’t suffer around him, that happiness was hypnotic, and he was not to be happy when she was to suffer again. Ingrid was a character to be loathed, though others felt pity as well. Personally, I don’t pity someone who goes out of their way to make others suffer.
Anyway, back to the ultimate nightmare. Astrid was tossed from foster home to foster home, and each one was hell on earth in their own ways. The first was by her own design, in a way, and ended with her getting shot by her foster mom. The second treated her like slave by a racist foster mom, she was attacked by a dog, and was finally just kicked out. The third home, called the starvation home, could’ve been cut out, honestly. It had very little time to develop, and served no purpose. It seemed just to show another aspect of suffering. The fourth home was her best home, with a foster mom who cared. However, things unhinged, especially after a trip to visit Ingrid in prison, and the foster mom eventually committed suicide. Astrid was sent to her final home in a home of immigrants making all kinds of side hustles.
In the end, Astrid aged out of the system, is living in Berlin with her boyfriend, a foster kid she met at the orphanage, and Ingrid was released from prison.
There’s a lot to talk about with this story. Something to address is that this took place in the 90s, when the foster care system was still kind of shit. While there are many many people who want to foster and adopt for good reasons, there are some bad apples in the bunch. Astrid just happened to be placed with a punch of bad apples.
This whole book was about three things, in my opinion: suffering, a mother figure, and self. Those three were prevalent in each and every home (except the starvation home, which doesn’t exist). Ingrid had instilled these messed up morals involving these three things in Astrid. She showed Astrid that everyone needs to suffer, tried to make Astrid a carbon copy rather than letting her be her own person, and was a lousy mother, at one point leaving her with the neighbors for over a year so she can party in Mexico (I think it was Mexico?). Astrid tried to figure out who she was outside of her mother at each home, and through suffering she was able to learn more. As well, in each home she tried to figure out what is a mother figure.
In conclusion (of my TED talk, thanks for coming), suffering helps you learn, but it’s not to dictate your life/happiness. You are your own person, even if it takes years to figure out who that person is. A mother figure doesn’t have to be a mother, or a woman, or a person at all. It’s whatever nurtures you.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. Yes, it was a bit farfetched, melodramatic, and yikes-worthy. However, it was well-written and presented the story amazingly. Yes, I loathe some of the characters. However, there was no perfect person, no hero, and personalities galore.
I would recommend this, but I do have to warn there is some underage things that happen. It’s a definite rated-R, and occasionally rated-Gross.
And because I wrote this, I am not including this in the book club post at the end of the month.
See you next time.