After her mother commits a terrible crime, teenage Astrid is placed in a series of foster homes, each one with its own set of problems. Her cold, cynical mother Ingrid attempts to give her instructions for life from jail through a series of letters, but the reader watches Astrid develop her own personality and points of view as she navigates the unpredictable and often cruel foster care system. Astrid somehow manages to break free of her controlling and manipulative mother, and in doing so, she becomes strong and capable in ways her mother cannot understand. Janet Fitch manages to create a well-rounded, intelligent female protagonist with this novel -- something the literary world could use more of. Fitch also writes with a beautifully poetic voice, speaking of tragedy with detail and delicacy. I can honestly say that White Oleander is one of the best works of fiction I have encountered. It was both a pleasure and an experience to read.
The struggle to build an authentic identity lies at the heart of Astrid's life as a foster child in Los Angeles after her poet mother, who has kept Astrid isolated from the world, is imprisoned for murder