Book: White Oleander
By : Janet Fitch
"...I felt the warmth that flowers must feel when they bloom through the snow, under the first concentrated rays of the sun" (pg 7).
White Oleander is about a girl named Astrid who's beautiful mother is sent to jail for murder, leaving Astrid to fend for herself through miserable foster home after foster home. She bounces from place to place, always stuck in situations that lead to pain (physical-- like being shot in the hip, and mental-- like being abandoned) and deeper and deeper misery.
The writing is amazing. Descriptions and images that wrap you up in stars and make the world disappear around you, leaving you spiraling through constellations.
"I was afraid she would fly away, and I would end up alone, living in some place where there were too many children, too many smells, where beauty and silence and the intoxication of her words rising in the air would be as far away as Saturn" (pg 10).Astrid's mother, Ingrid, raises her to value beauty above everything else, to be strong and proud and independent. When she's sent away, Astrid is only 12, and it's up to her to maneuver her way through foster homes and strange new environments.
"Beauty was my mother's law, her religion. You could do anything you wanted, as long as you were beautiful, as long as you did things beautifully" (pg 11).
There is an awkward romantic relationship between 14 year old Astrid and a man in his 50's (who, in the movie, was much younger and more handsome than his original counterpart), and a few sex scenes that are a bit more than beautiful, but other than that, I've found the book to be amazing. Everything is written so beautifully, and the world around her is written with such grace that I actually savor the pages.
I'm only just barely half way through, but as soon as I finish I will jump to find another book by the author. Her descriptions could go toe to toe with almost any Francesca Lia Block story (although food is decidedly absent most of the time) and the raw emotion in the story feels quiet but real.
"In the shade in the front of the house next door, our elegant neighbor was cutting some lily of the Nile, the same color as the jacaranda bloom. She was barefoot in a simple dress, and her feet and the palms of her hands showed pale pink against her burnt caramel skin. They looked ornamental, as if she came from a place where women dipped hands and feet in pink powder. She didn't smile. She was wholly absorbed in her shears, clipping a stem of rosemary, a stem of mint, in the dappled light and shade. A fallen jacaranda bloom clung to her dark hair, which was up in a careless French twist. I loved that one stray blossom" (pg 139).