Total pages: 7,203
Okay, everybody sing with me:
OOOOOOOOOOOLEANDER, where the foster parents are all jerks,
Sleep with your step-dad, he's not that bad,
And corrupt law systems that don't work!
OOOOOOOOOOOLEANDER, every night she stares up at the sky,
Everyone's a skank, so who's to thank?
It's her mom who murdered some jerk-guy!
This was actually a pretty good book. Depressing, but good. I actually think it would be a good book for pretty much any mature male who is married and/or almost married to read, because it's a really good look into the female psyche. What makes the character of Astrid so heartbreaking to me is that she's not deranged or predisposed to depression; she's a fairly normal girl forced into a pretty crappy life who makes some awful choices. Her choices, however, are almost always motivated because some need in her heart isn't being met--in a general sense, it's the need to be loved, but there are some specifics within that generality that I think a lot of men don't understand are really crucial to almost all women.
Why only recommended reading for mature, married, and/or almost married? Well, a lot of these needs are expressed in the act of lovemaking, and I've never felt a graphic depiction of that event nor the psychological/emotional effects it has on a woman during the act is generally a necessary or healthy experience for most guys outside a marriage relationship.
So there's that.
Anyway, the story is, for the most part, a downer. There aren't a lot of characters who are really likable. Everybody is deeply flawed (which is realistic, of course, but is it really that hard to find one person who isn't constantly acting selfishly or wallowing in self-pity?), and Astrid's situation goes from bad to worse to tolerable to worse to even worse to apathetic to bad again...et cetera.
The plot is pretty simple: 12-year-old Astrid lives lone with her poet mother, a soldier in the crusade against the oppressive nature of "a man's world." Surprisingly, her mother falls madly in love with a musician, and when he cheats on her, her evil side shows, and she starts stalking him, and eventually she poisons him and goes to jail. The entirety of Astrid's teenage years sends her bouncing from foster home to foster home, where she makes all kinds of poor choices and ruins some lives, helps a few, has her own world shattered time and time again, and ultimately comes to hate her mother.
That's not the ending, of course. I actually really liked the ending. I believed it. I was satisfied. And no, Astrid doesn't die.
While Janet Fitch's view of humanity seems more than a trifle distressing, I really admired her use of words. She painted some great, vivid pictures. Images that were lyrical, poetic, without being pretentious. It was a beauty within a downward spiral into continually worsening circumstances. Beauty was a central theme in the book, and the narrative voice was often beautiful, even if the protagonist didn't see herself or the world as beautiful.
On the whole, While Oleander was not mind-blowing, nor would I call it a "must-read," but I enjoyed it, and even if I disagree with some of what I saw, I think there's a lot of truth to be gleaned from its pages as well.