I first saw the movie "White Oleander" a few years ago. I think they were showing it on TBS in a loop, the way TBS loves to show movies on the weekends, and I just happened to catch the beginning of it. That's the only way I watch movies actually. If I'm flipping through the channels and there's a movie I want to see, even if I've seen it before, I will only watch it if I can see it from the beginning. I always feel as though something is lost in the experience of the story if you come at it all willy nilly from the middle, or 2/3 of the way through. And the worst is when you've only missed the first 5 minutes. It's heartbreaking! It's so close to the beginning, and yet, so much can happen in the first 5 minutes that if you miss it, you'll spend the whole rest of the movie playing catch up, not fully understanding, and not quite having the same appreciation you would have if you'd experienced it in its entirety. In any case, I digress.
So, a few years ago I was watching "White Oleander" on TV and I couldn't take my eyes away from the screen. I think the best way to describe it would be, beautifully tragic. Both the book and the movie follow the all-encompassing relationship between a single mother, Ingrid, and her adolescent daughter, Astrid, as well as Astrid's own rocky relationship with herself.
In both versions (book and film) Ingrid and Astrid seem to float around in a world of Ingrid's creation, with Astrid's only tether being her mother. Ingrid is tether-less, and therefore able to make the decision to kill an ex-lover who scorned her, with little regard to the trajectory she will send her daughter on in her absence once she has been carted off to prison. The bulk of the story follows Astrid on her physical, spiritual and emotional journey as she bounces from foster home to foster home to foster home to group home in search of her place in the world, and an identity separate from the one her mother has given her.
Now, when watching the movie, I felt as though the development of Ingrid and Astrid's relationship in the beginning of the book was lacking. I felt as though not enough was done to give credence to the hold Ingrid has over Astrid for much of the rest of the film. I also felt as though Astrid's own downward spiral felt rushed, and I wished we had more time with Astrid on her journey. All that being said, it was still a captivating movie, and as I am fully aware of the constraints of the screenplay, I recognize that wanting the movie to be longer, is asking a lot.
The book was different. A few authors of wildly popular YA books have recently taken to re-writing a portion of their first book from another character's perspective. Doing this provides new insight, and literally allows the reader to see events unfold with a new pair of eyes. This is what reading White Oleander was like after watching the movie. Ingrid and Astrid's relationship is expertly crafted, and the time and detail paid to each leg of Astrid's journey is breathtaking. A large part of the book is painful, and there are definitely parts that even in their exquisite language are just hard to read, but if you choose to pick up this book, push through. Keep reading. It is worth it. When Astrid finally comes out on the other side, you feel as though you are right there with her, and you take a breath you didn't even realize you were holding.