White Oleander

By Janet Fitch,

Book cover of White Oleander

Book description

White Oleander is a painfully beautiful first novel about a young girl growing up the hard way. It is a powerful story of mothers and daughters, their ambiguous alliances, their selfish love and cruel behaviour, and the search for love and identity.Astrid has been raised by her mother, a beautiful,…

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Why read it?

10 authors picked White Oleander as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This book struck a chord with me as it masterfully portrays a journey through hardship and transformation. Astrid’s resilience, especially in the haunting absence of her mother, resonated deeply with me as I navigated similar challenges in my own life. Her path to self-discovery and breaking free from generational patterns illustrates the profound strength required for self-reclamation.

Astrid and her mother, Ingrid, live a glamorous life in Los Angeles. Everything seems perfect until Ingrid poisons her boyfriend, Barry, leaving Astrid without any family. Astrid gets thrown to the mercy of the foster care system and finds herself torn away from everything she once held dear: art, beauty, music, and childhood.

Fitch has done the impossible: she has made a beautiful, compelling story out of something that could be written off as tragedy. This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, and I’m constantly pushing it on people: “You must read it, really, it’s so…

From Ava's list on cool, culty Los Angeles.

Janet Fitch achieved a miracle with this novel about a girl rambling through a flawed foster care system after her mother is convicted of a heinous crime.

In a predictable set-up, the mother would be supportive despite her incarceration. She would be a wise person offering the girl advice. But the author had the confidence and skill to make the mother a beautiful monster, a brilliant, malignant poet whose attempts at controlling the girl are frustrated by the physical distance between them.

The girl’s growing awareness of her mother’s destructive potential is set against a series of foster families. I…

From S.P.'s list on women doing terrible things.

Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

Book cover of Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

Leslie Tall Manning Author Of Maggie's Dream

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Why am I passionate about this?

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Winner of the Literary Titan Book Award

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family’s happiness.

But Marilyn’s quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb Jones wants something more than a father-daughter relationship. He sends Carol far away, where the boy won’t be a hindrance to his plans. Marilyn devises a plan of her own: to locate her little brother, kidnap him, and run away.

Independence, however, often comes at a high price.

As Marilyn weathers the unexpected and often brutal storms of her childhood and adolescence, hope becomes her ally as she winds through small southern towns, wrapping herself around an assortment of hearts along the way. With unexpected help from a caring social worker, a carnival of misfits, her first true love, and even the elusive Tan Man himself, Marilyn will discover that “family” isn’t always what we imagine it to be.

"A dazzling piece that delves deep into the themes of survival, the casualties of self-discovery, and the power of familial ties." ~ Prairies Book Review

Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

What is this book about?

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family's happiness.

But Marilyn's quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb…


This lush book, written in 1994, is now something of a classic.

Ingrid is scorned by a man that she sees as being beneath her so she poisons him, and is sent to prison, leaving her daughter Astrid to navigate a series of foster care and adolescence all on her own.

The sweep of descriptive language is lush and languid as the California it depicts. I read this book repeatedly when it first came out, I felt Astrid’s pain as my own. 

From Asale's list on badass mothers.

White Oleander tells a story about a young girl growing up the hard way after her mother murders her partner and gets sent to jail. Astrid lives her life in social care going from foster care to foster care facing so many difficult scenarios each time it’s unbelievable. A story of pure love and hate between mother and daughter and the challenges that arise in this abusive relationship. This book is so beautifully written it’s like poetry, I had to read it twice and was not surprised when it was made into a movie. 

It’s been many years since I first read this book, and I am still haunted by the voice of its protagonist. Unlike the other mother-daughter books on this list, White Oleander is fiction, although readers who have clung to toxic mothers or endured hardship, abuse, loneliness, and abandonment, will see the truth on every page. The story and its characters are unforgettable.

The dark and complex relationship between a daughter (Astrid) and her poet mother (Ingrid) is the thrust of this engaging work. The story is seen through the eyes of Astrid as she struggles to find a sense of herself as she moves through an array of foster homes, while the aura of her mother and the crime that has led to her incarceration looms over Astrid’s life.

From Daniel's list on character and personal journeys.

My copy of White Oleander is tattered, with lime-green post-it notes sticking out from the pages, and sentences, often paragraphs, highlighted throughout the novel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this haunting, coming-of-age story. I come back to it for two reasons, the clever prose and the relationship between Astrid, the teen narrator, and her mother, in prison for murder. This is how, for instance, Astrid sees herself and her mother: “She was a beautiful woman dragging a crippled foot and I was that foot. I was bricks sewn into the hem of her clothes, I was…

From Shelly's list on YA for adults.

White Oleander tells the story of Ingrid, a brilliant poet imprisoned for murder, and her daughter, Astrid, who is left to fend for herself in a series of foster homes. The turbulent, difficult mother-daughter relationship in this novel is forever seared into my mind. At its core, this is a novel about finding one's way, no matter what.

From Kate's list on dysfunctional families.

Fitch’s characters are powerful, multi-faceted, and written without disclosure. Furthermore, White Oleander is a survival story, which I love. 

When I first read this book, I had just had my second child, and I was in the midst of an abusive marriage. I didn’t necessarily find a sisterhood with Fitch’s characters, which could’ve been true enough, as much as I found an example to follow in genre study. Much of what I endured during those tumultuous years I tunneled into writing, and for that reason, in many ways, White Oleander is a precursor to my writing career, and Trespassing is…

From Brandi's list on starring empowered women.

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