A poignant, poetic novel by Janet Fitch published in 1999.

This is the story of Astrid, the only child of a brilliant woman, Ingrid. Ingrid is used to manipulating men as easy as Play Dough, but she looses it when she gets jilted by a lover. She murders the man and is sent to jail, and from then on Astrid is forced to jump through a series of twisted foster homes.

While each home teaches her a little too well about the cruelties of life and people, each scathing experience manages to harden her up a bit more for the next road ahead. In her first foster home, Astrid takes several bullets from a white-trash born-again Christian "mother" angry because Astrid is messing around with her man. In another foster home she is starved by a ruthless caretaker, and in another Astrid finds sweetness and a sense of peace when she becomes part of an ostensibly "perfect" couples' life. But it does not last.

Astrid's toughness factor adds to her resiliency, and her story presents a powerful perspective on growing up alone in a disturbed world.

This book, to me, carries numerous memorable passages. One of these:

"Give me a Satie tone poem like light on a Monet haystack, or Brazilian Astrud like a Matisse line. Let me lie down in a half-shuttered room in the south of France with Matisse and the soft flutter of heavy-feathered white doves, their mild calls. Only a little time, Henri, before Picasso will come with his big boots. We should take our afternoon."

Update- "White Oleander" the film:

The film version of this incredible book was released in October 2002. It stars Alison Lohman as Astrid, Michelle Pfeiffer as Ingrid, Renee Zellweger, Billy Connolly, Robin Wright Penn, and Noah Wyle.

Directed by: Peter Kosminsky
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 1 hour and 49 minutes

Going into see this film, my only hope was that the movie wasn't a complete botch, considering how beautiful the novel is. I was pleasantly surprised to find a relatively decent film, with strong performances by virtually all of the stars as well as from newcomer Allison Lohman, who played the film's protagonist.

Starr, the alcoholic bible-thumper who wounds Astrid with a gunshot, is portrayed terrifically in the film by Robin Wright Penn. Pfeiffer, whom filmgoers haven't seen play such an evil character since Catwoman in 1992's "Batman Returns," does an excellent job portraying an icy femme fatale who continues to control her daughter from prison.

The director, Peter Kosminsky, employs several quick and dramatic flashback scenes throughout the course of the film, allowing viewers an excellent way to see exactly how her mother went about murdering the man.

Renee Zellweger offers a first-rate performance as Claire, a parental figure who's one of the first to show Astrid what genuine love is. Paul is another kind soul who helps Astrid, also performed well by Patrick Fugit ("Almost Famous").

Transferring Janet Fitch's tremendous novel to the screen without losing some of its beauty is pretty much impossible. One also loses much of what happens in the original story- some of the places Astrid lives in and some of the friendships that are important to her development never show up on film, and the book also allows more of a glimpse into the manipulative mind of her mother. But to place everything in the movie would prove a 24-hour monstrosity impossible to view.

The film was well-cast and Lohman most certainly has a promising future as an actress. The film is worth seeing, but as is always said, the book is so much better than the movie.

Grade: B+

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