Book: White Oleander
Author: Janet Fitch
Published: 1999 (Little, Brown)
Holy shit, you guys. This is some mother-daughter intensity right here.
It's about a lady poet who's a single mom raising her daughter in the American desert until she poisons her boyfriend (with ground-up oleander distilled oil, y'all - ON HIS DOORKNOB) in a jealous rage. Then it's about the daughter rebelling her way through a series of foster homes while her mom's poetry gains new notoriety as she serves her prison sentence.
Throughout what could be registered as Standard Deviations of Foster Care, Coming-of-Age Literary Version 2.0 (you got your hardscrabble Jesus-jumping crazy trailer trash, your unnecessarily vicious rich bitch, your foreign-born hustlers who need another worker, your damaged woman who is more like a friend than a guardian and ends up needing the kid more than the kid needs her), the girl grows up with her mother's poetic skepticism deeply entrenched into wherever her new lives take her. Her mother won't let her ignore her, and it's tearing her apart until she finally grabs some backbone and runs with it.
I really liked this, although I can't emphasize how intense it was. I read it over a couple days of staycation I had this month, and I basically had to make myself take breaks so I could remember that life is more than flower vendettas and the hum of my bedroom window's fan.
So, bookcase for sure. I admire the hell out of such a fierce outlook, and it's great to find that I'm not the only one who wants to find such intense meaning, and it feels more sincere and hard-won optimistic than a lot of literary fiction - it looks things more square in the eye and fights rather than dithers about shit it can't change. But it's got to be tempered with something lighter - not to be confused with something shallower - to stay fully appreciated.