White Oleander
By Janet Fitch



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In addition to the Publisher’s Questions, the WMBC poses the following:

1. Ingrid offers Astrid many lessons, or rules, throughout the book. Amongst them, “Never apologize, never explain.” (pg. 16) (pg 46 for a short list.) What others did you find and how did they settle with you?

2. And yet, Ingrid is quite capable of breaking many of her own like when she visits Barry at his home and he sends her away because he has a “date”. (pg 28) Astrid says, “Once you broke the first one, they all broke, one by one, like firecrackers exploding in your face in a parking lot on the Fourth of July.

3. We do not learn Ingrid’s name until page 20 and Astrid’s name even later, on page 36. Why do you think this is?

4. “It is only natural to destroy something you could never have.” Discuss the impact of this statement.

5. After reading, “The Art of Survival”, Astrid decides to pull herself together. How does she do this and with what success or failure?

6. Astrid is ripped apart by a pack of dogs and stitched back together. She says “I liked it better this way.” (pg 176) What does this say about her mental state?

7. Astrid considers suicide (pg 179) with a knife across her wrists. She says, “You had to consider the underlying structure”, meaning of the wrist. However, in the broader picture, how does this really apply to the underlying structure of her upbringing?

8. While at church, Astrid says she never understood until Rev. Thomas said that “in hell, the sinners were indifferent to the suffering of others, it was part of damnation.” But she is not thinking of her mother, she is thinking of herself and her own starvation. How does feeling damned add to Astrid’s suffering?

9. And yet, somehow Astrid survives. She survives all: the death of Claire, the treatments by all the other foster homes, etc. What does this say of her spirit, her will to survive when all around is chaos, and the human spirit at large?

***** Little, Brown and Company’s Discussion Questions:

1. Describe the relationship between Astrid and Ingrid early in the book. Why was Astrid fearful her mother would "fly away" if she mentioned she would have enjoyed having a father, summer camp, a Y program, or summer school?

2. Astrid said, "My mother was not the least bit curious about me." (p. 10) How do you think that made this twelve year-old feel? What do you think that does to a child to come to that realization?

3. Why does Astrid express herself through her paintings and drawings versus words?

4. Discuss the symbolism of the wildfires and Astrid's coming of age, her desires, and her feelings?

5. Compare the characteristics of the white oleander to Ingrid. Then draw a comparison to the type of mother she was, and the type of prisoner she was. Can you compare any characteristics of the white oleander to Astrid?

6. Ingrid said in a passage "Isn't it funny, I'm enjoying my hatred so much more than I ever enjoyed love." (p. 34) How does this come back to haunt her?

7. Astrid takes a few of her mother's things before the child welfare people take her away. What is the significance of the ex-acto knife? Of the kimono? What solace or strength do they offer her?

8. Although Astrid tells Paul "I don't let anyone touch me" (p.265) discuss how Claire touched her. Did others touch her as well? What is it about her experiences with people that make her feel this way? Discuss the powerful ways in which Astrid touched other people.

9. Why would Astrid choose Rena as her new foster mother versus Bill and Ann Greenway? Was she in some way trying to punish herself? Why did she feel she deserved Rena?

10. Discuss the various letters from mother to daughter, especially the one on p. 303. At what point did Astrid start to pull away from her mother emotionally? At what point was she snapped back?

11. Referring to her relationship with Ray, Astrid said, "I was the snake in the garden." (p.93) How does this phrase relate to Marvel, Claire and Rena?

12. Why does Astrid wait several hours before alerting Ron to Claire's death? What in Astrid died at the same time?

13. Discuss Astrid's view of men. How does Ray compare to Ron? Does she blame men for the bad things that happen to women? Are women merely pawns in a man's world? How does she rise above this?

14. Why do you think Astrid always found herself in the position of caregiver to Starr's children, Marvel's children, and Claire when she was so deeply in need of care herself?

15. Life presents us with important lessons to be learned. What was the ultimate life lesson Astrid learned in her teenage journey? Why would she consider, and desire, a new life with her mother, yet not return to her in the end?

WMBC Discussion questions compiled by:
Elaine Gallant, Sept. 29, 2014
West Maui Book Club