Wednesday, September 5, 2012



A young girl must deal with the repercussions when her beautiful, terrible mother murders her lover.


Astrid and Ingrid Magnussen are not like other people, at least that's what Ingrid teaches her daughter. She is a magnetic, sometimes ethereal poet who glides through life with cold elegance. Astrid worships her mother and watches her wield power over men who mean nothing to her. When an unremarkable man loves and then leaves her, Astrid watches Ingrid plot and carry out a crime that is both dispassionate and desperate. She finds herself in the foster care system, shuffled between households, mothers and worlds, constantly in thrall to her mother's dangerous influence.

WHITE OLEANDER is viciously lyrical, exploring the pain of growing up in the foster system through unapologetic poetry. I read this novel before summer started, but the descriptions of Ingrid's cold, psychological power have stayed with me. The novel is set in southern California and explores the dry, unglamorous parts of the region with desolate honesty. Some might find the prose overdone, but I appreciated the way the author lingered over the descriptions and images, allowing them to sink and settle.

The language is what makes this novel worth reading, but the characters are also complex, flawed and fascinating. It is not a happy novel, but the relationships and people are fiercely vivid. I'm currently working on a novel, and I've learned a lot from Janet Fitch's model while developing my characters. Ingrid is an extreme character, and the author is not afraid to make her powerful, dangerous and beautiful. I have a tendency to make everyone pretty reasonable, but reading WHITE OLEANDER has challenged me to stretch beyond that and work on creating characters who are truly memorable.


Janet Fitch's blog


$9.99 for the Kindle edition


What character has stuck with you the longest after reading their story? What book did you remember for the language rather than the plot?


  1. Wow!A blast from the past! I read this about ten years ago and recently when I was back home I noticed I had two copies in my bookcase for some reason. I have just finished Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies and the language of that will stay with me forever.I oved his descriptive passages and the characters and plot were superb, but the language and specifically the strange vocabulary, half Indian half English, will stay with me.

  2. +JMJ+

    One book with excellent language is Downsiders by Neal Shusterman. It was the first novel that really showed me how words can build a whole world.


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