The Louisville Cardinal

Best books to read in college: ‘White Oleander’

By Sammie Hill–

One of my new favorite novels, ‘White Oleander’ by Janet Fitch tells the story of Astrid Magnussen, a girl who must face life alone following her mother’s incarceration for murder. Following Astrid through her teen years and into her early 20s, ‘White Oleander’ explores how the experiences we have, the people we meet, the accidents we endure and the losses we suffer all affect the people we become.

College students in particular may find themselves enchanted with this novel because, in our late teens and early 20s, we are still growing and changing and becoming who we’re going to be. In ‘White Oleander’, we get to see Astrid go through these changes as well, which can help us make a little more sense of our own lives.

Also, those majoring, minoring or simply interested in English will wildly appreciate Fitch’s beautiful use of language, for as enthralling as the plot is, the true power of this novel lies in the poetic language Fitch creates. She uses ordinary words and images in new, unusual ways to convey the depth of the characters and the complexity of their experiences.

College students might be inspired by Astrid’s strength and her ability to endure all of the challenges she faces. Because she doesn’t have a relationship with her father, Astrid lands in foster care following her mother’s incarceration. Her experiences in the foster care system test her and break her, but she emerges tougher, stronger and wiser.

As college students facing the daunting, ambiguous era of adulthood, life isn’t always smooth sailing. In fact, it is often far from it. Life in our 20s is messy and scary and painful and complicated. ‘White Oleander’ reflects this through Astrid’s story. Though fictional, Astrid’s struggles are familiar and human. Thus, students facing tough situations can relate to Astrid’s difficulties and hopefully find comfort and inspiration in her ability to be resilient.

In the end, this book will move you, change you, stir something within you and leave you different than you were before. Its beautiful, heartbreaking story works in tandem with Fitch’s rich, masterful use of language to generate a novel that sticks with you long after the final page.