White Oleander is the story of Astrid Magnussen, the daughter of single mother and poet Ingrid Magnussen. One day Ingrid murders her boyfriend so Astrid is put into California's foster care system. The book follows Astrid from home to home, detailing the various horrors she faces and her relationship with her mother.
The book, of course, goes into greater detail about the relationships between characters and Astrid goes through more homes in the book. The biggest thing that the book does better is Astrid's relationship with her mother: how her feelings change, how even an absent parent shapes your life and who you become, and recognizing when the relationship is toxic and needs to be ended.
One thing the movie has over the book, though, is that the movie doesn't have Astrid's constant, annoying, and unnecessary narration rife with ridiculous similes. Had Fitch removed half of them there would still be too many. Astrid is an artist, so I understand wanting her to view the world in a specific and referential way but holy crap. Too, too much.
I kind of wish I had found this book in high school, it would have meant a great deal more to me then. I would have identified with Astrid's alienation and survival, and it would have helped me relax and live a little freer. Now I wish it were a little more refined, and that it didn't try so hard.
I give it 2.5 stars out of 5-- 2.5 being my "Guilty Pleasure" rating, I know it's not great but damn if I don't end up reading it again every few years (or if it's a movie, watching it on those rainy afternoons when there's nothing else on-- you know you do it, too).
See Blauthor, Blauthor! for more of my reviews.