Astrid is the only child of a single mother, Ingrid, a brilliant, obsessed poet who wields her beauty to intimidate and manipulate. Astrid worships her mother and cherishes their private world of ritual and mystery. But their idyll is shattered when Astrid's mother murders a lover, and is sentenced to prison for life.
White Oleander follows Astrid through a a series of foster homes and her efforts to find a place for herself in the world. Each home is its own universe, with a new set of laws and lessons. Astrid's journey investigates the nature of the mother-daughter bond, burgeoning sexuality, the redemptive powers of art, and the unstoppable force of the emergent self.