White Oleander by Janet Fitch is a uniquely powerful story that shows how circumstances can ruin the chances of even those with the most potential. Janet Fitch weaves the tale of a young girl who idolizes her mother until her mother is arrested and the young girl is bounced from foster home to foster home. Fitch manages to tell the story with language that reads like the most interesting poetry you have encountered. One powerful line from White Oleander comes from Astrid’s mother,

“Always learn poems by heart…They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they’ll make your soul impervious to the world’s soft decay.”

Lines like these add a gentle beauty to an otherwise dark and painful story.

Astrid, the main character, is touching and easily relatable. Even when she responds to life in desperate ways, it is impossible to not understand her perspective and feel a deep empathy for her. Life is certainly not kind to Astrid and as she is pushed from one dark situation to the next her mood and attitude are understandably changed. You are a silent bystander as you watch a character who simultaneously love and yet see yourself in become beaten and weathered by the harshness of the world.

White Oleander is a moving and painful read but worth every tear that you are guaranteed to shed. Be prepared to need to put the book down for a second to breathe, but be sure to always pick it back up again. When you are taking a moment for a deep breath, brew yourself a cup of lavender tea. Honey and lemon go well with lavender tea and the flowery scent balanced by sweet honey and a shot of acidity from the lemon fit the complex emotions of White Oleander. Grab some tissues, a steaming cup of lavender tea, and Janet Fitch’s masterpiece White Oleander. 

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