Monday, February 20, 2012

White Oleander

I really wanted to love White Oleander. But, I suppose the fact that it's been sitting on my shelves unread since 1999 I suppose I had my doubts! I'm really trying to make a dent in my TBR stack and wanted to clear off some of the books that have lingered on my shelves the longest before I give in and head back to the library, which I miss dearly.

For some reason, I love stories about crazy women. Why? I don't know. I also tend to like stories about realistic hardships, poor people fighting their way to something better, books like The Glass Castle or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. So, White Oleander should have been a winner. And it was good. It just wasn't great, and I was left feeling disappointed.

It started of promising. Astrid's mother Ingrid is straight-up crazy - in a selfish, free-spirited poet kind of way. Ingrid eventually loses her mind totally over a man, and goes to prison for killing him. Astrid is then sent off to the foster care system, struggling just to survive.

At first, I felt sorry for Astrid and was fearful for her as she finds herself in a bad situation. One of the things I enjoy about books like this is imagining being in these situations - what would it be like to be sent to live with strangers? Strangers who are gross, or creepy, or racist, or violent, or mean. What if you had nothing in life to call your own?

As we continue on Astrid's journey, however, I quickly grew bored with the series of unfortunate events and terrible choices that Astrid makes. I understand that in some of her choices, she's acting out or reaching for things the only way she can. But the whole things just seems so unrealistic. I get that most teens in foster care get shuttled around from bad situation to bad situation. But Astrid's experiences are so terrible and so plentiful that it just seems crazy and took me out of the story. It felt more like someone was cramming every bad story they'd ever heard about foster care into one storyline than something that could really happen.

Because of Astrid's choices, at some point I stopped really rooting for her. This made the last half of the book difficult to get through because I just wanted someone to kill her off already and put us both out of our misery. I also felt like the writing was just a bit overwrought, like someone trying really hard to write literary fiction instead of writing naturally. Don't get me wrong - I love literary fiction, and literary, poetic writing. But something about this just felt contrived. I'm not quite sure what made it different, because it certainly wasn't bad writing. Something just seemed off in some way.

While I didn't end up loving this book, I am glad I read it and I'm glad it's finally off my TBR pile!


  1. I read this a long time ago when it first came out, so I must have been 14 or 15. I thought the whole thing was beautifully tragic, but I haven't read it since. Since then, I've read quite a few real stories, so I think reading a fictional account of that kind of situation would feel fake to me, you know?

    1. I think this is one of those books I would have liked a lot more when I was younger. I think you might be right; I've read a lot of real life memoirs like this, so this just felt unreal to me. I guess I should have read it back when I bought it!

  2. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, however, I saw the film and it had it's moments of greatness, such as when Astrid moved in with Claire and her husband and seemed genuinely happy and seeing her relationship with Paul during the end.