Winner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation's Citation for Fiction. An eleven-year-old heroine tells her unforgettable story with honesty, perceptivity, humor, and unselfconscious heroism. "The honesty of thought and eye and feeling and word!"Eudora Welty; "A lovely, breathtaking, sometimes heart-wrenching first novel."Walker Percy. A LITERARY GUILD SELECTION.
About the Author
Kaye Gibbons was born in Nash County, North Carolina and attended Rocky Mount Senior High School, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her first novel, Ellen Foster, was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction of the American Academy and Institute of the Arts and Letters and a special citation from the Ernest Hemingway Foundation. She has been the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and was recently awarded the PEN/Revson Fellowship for A Cure for Dreams. She is writer-in-residence at the Library of North Carolina State University. She and her husband, Michael, and their three daughters Mary, Leslie and Louise, live in Raleigh.
Hometown:Raleigh, North Carolina, and New York, New York
Date of Birth:May 5, 1960
Place of Birth:Nash County, North Carolina
Education:Attended North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1978-1983
Read an Excerpt
When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure
out this or that way and run it down through my head until it got easy.
The way I liked best was letting go a poisonous spider in his bed. It
would bite him and he'd be dead and swollen up and I would shudder
to find him so. Of course I would call the rescue squad and tell them to
come quick something's the matter with my daddy. When they come in
the house I'm all in a state of shock and just don't know how to act
what with two colored boys heaving my dead daddy onto a roller cot. I
just stand in the door and look like I'm shaking all over.
But I did not kill my daddy. He drank his own self to death the year after the County moved me
out. I heard how they found him shut up in the house dead and everything. Next thing I know
he's in the ground and the house is rented out to a family of four.
All I did was wish him dead real hard every now and then. And I can say for a fact that I am
better off now than when he was alive.
I live in a clean brick house and mostly I am left to myself. When I start to carry an odor I take a
bath and folks tell me how sweet I look.
There is a plenty to eat here and if we run out of something we just go to the store and get some
more. I had me a egg sandwich for breakfast, mayonnaise on both sides. And I may fix me
another one for lunch.
Two years ago I did not have much of anything. Not that I live in the lap of luxury now but I am
proud for the schoolbus to pick me up here every morning. My stylish well-groomed self
standing in the front yard with the grass green and the hedge bushessquare.
I figure I made out pretty good considering the rest of my family is either dead or crazy.
Every Tuesday a man comes and gets me out of social studies and we go into a room and talk
about it all.
Last week he spread out pictures of flat bats for me to comment on. I mostly saw flat bats. Then
I saw big holes a body could fall right into. Big black deep holes through the table and the floor.
And then he took off his glasses and screwed his face up to mine and tells me I'm scared.
I used to be but I am not now is what I told him. I might get a little nervous but I am never
Oh but I do remember when I was scared. Everything was so wrong like somebody had
knocked something loose and my family was shaking itself to death. Some wild ride broke and
the one in charge strolled off and let us spin and shake and fly off the rail. And they both died
tired of the wild crazy spinning and wore out and sick. Now you tell me if that is not a fine style
to die in. She sick and he drunk with the moving. They finally gave in to the motion and let the
wind take them from here to there.
Even my mama's skin looked tired of holding her weak self. She would prop herself up by the
refrigerator and watch my daddy go round the table swearing at all who did him wrong. She
looked all sad in her face like it was all her fault.
She could not help getting sick but nobody made her marry him. You see when she was my size
she had romantic fever I think it is called and since then she has not had a good heart.
She comes home from the hospital sometimes. If I was her I would stay there. All laid up in the
air conditioning with folks patting your head and bringing you fruit baskets.
Oh no. She comes in and he lets into her right away. Carrying on. Set up in his E-Z lounger like
he is King for a Day. You bring me this or that he might say.
She comes in the door and he asks about supper right off. What does she have planned? he
wants to know. Wouldn't he like to know what I myself have planned? She would look at him
square in the face but not at his eyes or mouth but at his whole face and the ugliness getting out
through the front. On he goes about supper and how come weeds are growed up in the yard.
More like a big mean baby than a grown man.
I got her suitcase in my hand and I carry it to the bedroom. But while I walk I listen to him and to
her not saying a word back to him. She stand between his mean highness and the television set
looking at him make words at her.
Big wind-up toy of a man. He is just too sorry to talk back to even if he is my daddy. And she is
too limp and too sore to get up the breath to push the words out to stop it all. She just stands
there and lets him work out his evil on her.
Get in the kitchen and fix me something to eat. I had to cook the whole time you was gone, he
And that was some lie he made up. Cook for his own self. Ha. If I did not feed us both we had
to go into town and get take-out chicken. I myself was looking forward to something fit to eat
but I was not about to say anything.
If anybody had asked me what to do I would have told us both to feed on hoop cheese and
crackers. Somebody operated on needs to stay in the bed without some husband on their back
all the time. But she does not go on to the bedroom but turns right back around and goes to the
kitchen. What can I do but go and reach the tall things for her? I set that dinner table and like to
take a notion to spit on his fork.
Nobody yells after anybody to do this or that here.
My new mama lays out the food and we all take a turn to dish it out. Then we eat and have a
good time. Toast or biscuits with anything you please. Eggs any style. Corn cut off the cob the
same day we eat it. I keep my elbows off the table and wipe my mouth like a lady. Nobody
barks, farts, or feeds the dogs under the table here. When everybody is done eating my new
mama puts the dishes in a thing, shuts the door, cuts on it, and Wa-La they are clean.
My mama does not say a word about being tired or sore. She did ask who kept everything so
clean and he took the credit. I do not know who he thinks he fooled. I knew he lied and my
mama did too. She just asked to be saying something.
Mama puts the food out on the table and he wants to know what I am staring at. At you humped
over your plate like one of us is about to snatch it from you. You old hog. But I do not say it.
Why don't you eat? he wants to know.
I don't have an appetite, I say back.
Well, you better eat. Your mama looks like this might be her last supper.
He is so sure he's funny that he laughs at his own self.
All the time I look at him and at her and try to figure out why he hates her so bad. When he is not
looking I give him the evil eye. And mama looks like she could crawl under the table and cry.
We leave his nasty self at that table and go to bed. She is sore all up through her chest and
bruised up the neck. It makes me want to turn my head.
We peel her dress off over the head and slip on something loose to sleep in. I help her get herself
laid in the bed and then I slide in beside her. She just turns her head into the pillow.
I will stay here with you. Just for a nap I will stay here with you.
Now at my new mama's I lay up late in the day and watch the rain fall outside. Not one thing is
pressing on me to get done here.
I have a bag of candy to eat on. One piece at a time. Make it last. All I got left to do is eat
supper and wash myself.
Look around my room. It is so nice.
When I accumulate enough money I plan to get some colored glass things that you dangle from
the window glass. I lay here and feature how that would look. I already got pink checkerboard
curtains with dingleballs around the edges. My new mama sewed them for me. She also sewed
matching sacks that I cram my pillows into every morning.
Everything matches. It is all so neat and clean.
When I finish laying here with these malted milk balls I will smooth the covers down and
generally clean up after myself. Maybe then I will play with the other people. But I might just lay
here until the chicken frying smells ready to eat.
I do not know if she hears him go out the back door. She is still enough to be asleep. He goes off
in the truck like he has some business to tend to. And you know and I know he's gone to get
himself something to drink. Then he brings it into this house like he is Santa Claus. He sets his
package beside his chair and then eases his lazy self into place. Yelling at somebody, meaning
myself, to turn on the television set. I could chew nails and spit tacks.
The yelling makes my mama jump and if she was asleep she is awake now. Grits her teeth every
time he calls out damn this or that. The more he drinks the less sense he makes.
By the time the dog races come on he's stretched out on the bathroom floor and can't get up. I
know I need to go in there and poke him. Same thing every Saturday. This week in particular she
does not need to find some daddy hog rooted all up against the toilet stool.
I get up and go in there and tell him to get up that folks got to come in here and do their business.
He can go lay in the truck.
He just grunts and grabs at my ankle and misses.
Get on up I say again to him. You got to be firm when he is like this. He'd lay there and rot if I let
him so I nudge him with my foot. I will not touch my hands to him. Makes me want to heave my
own self seeing him pull himself up on the sink. He zig-zags out through the living room and I
guess he makes it out the door. I don't hear him fall down the steps.
And where did she come from? Standing in the door looking at it all.
Get back in bed, I say to mama.
Mama's easy to tend to. She goes back in the bedroom. Not a bit of trouble. Just stiff and hard
to move around. I get her back in the bed and tell her he's outside for the night. She starts to
whimper and I say it is no reason to cry. But she will wear herself out crying.
I ought to lock him out.
A grown man that should be bringing her food to nibble on and books to look at. No but he is
taking care of his own self tonight. Just like she is not sick or kin to him.
A storm is coming up. And I will lay here with my mama until I see her chest rise up and sink
down regular. Deep and regular and far away from the man in the truck.
I can smell the storm and see the air thick with the rain coming.
He will sleep through the thunder and rain. And oh how I have my rage and desire for the
lightning to come and strike a vengeance on him. But I do not control the clouds or the thunder.
And the way the Lord moves in his business.
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
1. Ellen is searching for a home. How does she define home at the beginning of the novel, and how does she refine her definition during the course of the narrative? What examples of family life and of parenthood has she had to guide her? How do the various parents she observes measure up? What message does Ellen receive during the course of the book about parents and parenthood? Is Gibbons's point that, in the end, family members are unreliable? That one can rely on no one but oneself?
2. Ellen is a person who is inclined to make lists; she is very concerned with order. What attempts does she make to introduce order into her own life? What is the source of this need for order and what light does it shed on Ellen's personality? How does this character trait relate to Ellen's instinct for survival? How does the theme of control and personal responsibility come up in relation to the novel's other characters? How does it relate to the deaths of Ellen's mother and grandmother?
3. Why have none of the concerned adults in Ellen's life--her teachers, Starletta's parents, Julia and Roy, Mavis--been able to rescue her from the dreadful and dangerous life she leads within her own family? How does this failure reflect upon the nature of Ellen's society? What is it about the life even of a small and interconnected community that keeps people from being able to help a desperate child? Is the legal system at fault? The social one?
4. "People say they do not try to be white" [p. 29], Ellen says about Starletta's parents. What does this tell us about them and about the society they live in? What does Ellen's initial description of Starletta's home reveal about Ellen herself? Whatdetails in her narrative expose her assumptions about black people? By extension, what do they show about her own vision of herself and her family? How do these assumptions change, and what causes them to do so? How does Ellen's observation of Mavis and her family contribute to her changing attitudes? Ellen's grandmother said she would learn something from picking cotton. What, in fact, does she learn?
5. "Nobody but a handful of folks I know pays attention to rules about how you treat somebody anyway, " Ellen reflects. "But as I lay in that bed and watch my Starletta fall asleep I figure that if they could fight a war over how I'm supposed to think about her then I'm obligated to do it" [p. 126]. What discovery has Ellen made here? Why is Starletta's weekend visit so significant to Ellen? Do you think the author is saying that Ellen is now a person without prejudice?
6. The South's violent history of slavery, war, and racial hatred is the unstated background for this story. How does Gibbons make us aware of its silent presence? To what degree is Ellen herself aware of it? Is the contemporary black experience as she observes it still based upon the fact of slavery, paid or unpaid? What is Ellen's way of personally coping with this tragic history?
7. The judge who awarded Ellen's custody to her grandmother expresses the common idea that a child should be with her own family, but Ellen objects. "What do you do when the judge talks about the family society's cornerstone but you know yours was never a Roman pillar but is and always has been a crumbly old brick?" [p. 56] she asks herself. Does Gibbons imply that a child's being with its biological family is not, after all, that important? Which is more important, the family you choose or the family you are born into?
8. Ellen does not believe in the church's version of God. "Chickenshit is what I would say" [p. 96], she says of Nadine's version of Heaven. But she does have her own version of God, and speaks to him on occasion. What sort of relationship does she have with the deity? What kind of deity is he--fair or strict? Accessible or inaccessible? Forgiving or unforgiving? How much of his character derives from the traditional God about whom the church has taught her?
9. The society around Ellen--particularly her mother's family--tries to make her feel guilty about many of her actions, even, in the case of her mama's mama, about her very existence. To what degree does Ellen share the feeling that she herself is guilty? Are the acts she feels guilty about the same ones she is blamed for by the people around her? She seems deeply concerned with the idea of personal atonement. What are her feelings about atonement and how does she herself atone by the end of the novel?
10. Money and the good and bad effects of having it or not having it are a recurring issue in Ellen Foster. Ellen baldly states, "All I really cared about accumulating was money. I saved a bundle" [p. 61]. In the book, economic status is often integrated into character descriptions or included in the rationale for characters' actions. How does Gibbons depict money as a force in people's lives? Is money, in and of itself, deemed to be either good or evil?
11. In Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons has chosen not to use quotation marks for dialogue. Look at passages like the ones on pages 32; 47 and 48; and 1
12. How do you know who is speaking? Are we listening only to Ellen, or listening in on a private conversation? How does the author's decision not to use quotation marks affect the reading experience?
12. "Dora, let me tell you a thing or two, " Ellen says. "There is no Santa Claus" [p. 107]. Yet, on Christmas Eve, Ellen longs to hear something landing on the roof. Having been deprived of her own childhood illusions, she hates Dora for retaining all of hers, but in spite of Starletta's happy Christmas and her toys, Ellen does not hate Starletta. What is the difference between Dora's and Starletta's innocent belief in Santa Claus? What does the Christmas scene as a whole say about the characters of Dora and Nadine? What does it say about family, childhood, innocence, and celebration?
13. What does Ellen's encounter with the school psychiatrist tell us about Ellen? What does it tell us about the psychiatrist and the kind of therapy he practices? How effective is the therapy as a tool for dealing with children like Ellen? Is it the psychiatrist's personal defects that keep it from working with Ellen, or would it be equally ineffective no matter who the practitioner was?
14. Two of the primary metaphors that recur throughout the novel are the magician and the microscope. What do you think each symbolizes? Who is the magician? How do his "appearances" after the deaths of Ellen's mother and father affect her internalization of the events? Why does the novel's diction change so markedly during these passages?
15. Why has Gibbons chosen the quotation from Emerson's Self-Reliance to begin her novel? How does the quotation relate to the text, to the character of Ellen, and to Gibbons's stated and implied themes? What has the novel itself to say about the attribute of self-reliance? Do you find that the novel's focus upon that quality places it within a particular tradition of American literature? What other American novels does Ellen Foster echo? If you have read Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, can you compare the two novels? Would it be fair to say that Ellen Foster is a female version of that very masculine story? How does the concept of "self-reliance" mold both books?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This story was surprising. A little girl who had to learn how to care of herself at the age of 8, which is what most people learn when they are in their 20's. She is an inspirational character. The obstacles she faces seem unreal and she couldnt find anyone that cared about her until she meets her foster mom. The story makes you think that this could possibly happen to you or someone close to you. It really makes you relate this story with your own life. Kaye Gibbons really makes you think with this novel.
Please do yourself a favor and read this absolutely wonderful book! You'll be captivated by this special little girl. All of Ms. Gibbons's books are just as good! Love them all.
The book starts off strong with Ellen (insert name here) wanting to kill her daddy. Shocking beginning, and then? It fizzles. Ellen lives with her sickly mother and dead beat dad. Her mother kills herself and her father eventually does too - just not intentionally. She bounces from house to house - some family, some not and finally ends up in a loving foster home. Funnily enough - she calls herself Ellen Foster b/c she erroneously things her foster family is The Foster Family. Anyway, the best part of this book is race relations. Ellen is a white girl with a black best friend. Ellen might have a black best friend, but she is still prejudice based on her upbringing. She refuses to eat or drink at her best friend's house. She thinks the worst thing would be to have to spend a night at her best friends house. Through her many moves with many family members, she overcome the prejudices realizing that there are things worse than sharing a glass of water with her black best friend. And it is the relationship b/w Scarletta and Ellen that is the highlight of the book.
I liked it very much. It was an easy read and a true opportunity to get into the main character with her trials and tribulations. Having worked in the field of a Child Abuse Investigator as well as Foster Care I could really relate tp this book.
A great look at the impact that dysfunctional families have on the well-being of children. At times hard to follow but a very fast read.
This book is great. Ellen Foster is a young girl who experiences tragedy and loss throughout her whole life. She Is a brave 11 year old who lives in the south. Kaye Gibbons does a great job at keeping youu hooked on the book you will not want to put it down!! This is a Must read book!!!
This Book, Ellen Foster, is an incredible book. It is a very heartbreaking story which is very hard to put down. This book is good for any age. Athough for some, it may not be relatable, the details and the way the story is written, makes you feel as if you are witnessing it in real life. MUST READ!!
[close] I read this book in high school English. The first thing I noticed was it was part of that great literature-pushing device known as Oprah's Book Club, so I immediately hated it with discriminatory flair. But then I opened it up, grudgingly at first, and started reading. The story was so stark and aching that I had to keep reading, hoping things got better, knowing they might not. I was sad to finish the book because it had brought me so much enjoyment. The book was truly an experience, and I thank Oprah for luring my teacher (who later became a guidance counselor, if that tells you anything) to it. And I would like to thank her again, strangely enough, for having her name plastered on the front so I could find it again, as the only details I could clearly recall when trying to find it again involved abuse, racial issues, and the friend who ate clay. Occasionally I catch the show or pick up the magazine in hopes of finding more fodder, but I am not completely sold on the empire as of yet. :)
Eleven-year-old Ellen Foster is an orphan, abused and neglected by her parents and finally abandoned to a series of cold or uncaring relatives, until she finally takes matters into her own hands and finds herself a place to belong With courage, wit, native intelligence,and the occasional kindness of others, she finds her own path to salvation. In Ellen Foster, Gibbons uses her beautiful language, literary acumen, and attention to detail to craft a clean, small spare portrait, a gift to all readers.
"When I was little I would think of ways to kill my Daddy." - Says 11-year-old Ellen in the opening line. A white orphan from a very racist North Carolina, she narrates this short book in almost a single breath. The grammar is her own slang, and there is little punctuation as she switches from narration to dialog, from past to present, from descriptions to thoughts. This is her account of her experiences with her mother's death and all the uncomfortable bounces toward her present. Her spirit, instead of breaking, sharpens itself, becoming a fierce armor of confidence and independence.This is a quick read, probably a great young adult book. It's actually a pretty charming story at least on the surface where, instead of crying, Ellen just keeps talking. But, it's also very intense; the natural tension of Ellen's experience amplified by Ellen's naivete, her nonchalant confidence and unintended humor. Each time I put the book down and exhaled, it felt like I had just been holding my breathe through the entire passage.
Ellen Foster By Kaye Gibbons Fall in love with this spunky, honest, smart, clever, brave young girl named Ellen. In a small backward southern town Ellen's mother dies from a heart condition and pure sadness. Her no good father drinks heavily and verbally abuses her daily. She has noone to hold her, noone to love her until through her own determination and Gods will she finds her new mama and becomes Ellen Foster. A classic story for all to enjoy. Take a moment to reflect on Ellen's struggle and faith that family and happiness are out there somewhere. She never stops hoping.
Ellen Foster is a ten year old girl who is rejected by all her family.After the death of her weak- willed and sick mother she is left mostly on her own, her father being a drunk and violent man and her closer relations wash their hands off their responsibility.A sad and heart-warming story, in which a little girl has to face the world and find her own place in it, keeping the illusion alive, in spite of her desolate surroundings.Nothing new though.
To be immersed in the naiveté and honesty of a child¿s thinking in this book is refreshing, sad and often very funny. Ellen Foster, a 10 year old and perceptive beyond her years, narrates her experiences of life and death which are close to unbearable at times in a truly dysfunctional family. Ellen, a strong character, is able to reason through what she does not understand in the adult world (e.g.,abuse, death, control, racism, rules, poverty) and many times sets a course of action to eventually save herself from a shallow and mean existence. She grows quickly with experience, changing and adapting to what is out of her control with clear purpose and mature behavior. Believing in her own goodness Ellen insists on being treated with respect and learns to respect the goodness in others...regardless of what others think.Gibbons¿ story offers a very special view of the world, and comes across with amazing humor and wisdom. This is a wonderful little book I feel privileged to have read.
11 year old Ellen tells her own story of abuse and neglect in mid-20th century North Carolina. Her mother commits suicide to escape her abusive father, and young Ellen learns to take care of herself-- literally putting food on her table and paying bills so she doesn't lose the house and hiding from her Daddy and his drunken friends. Strong implication of sexual abuse--no detailed abuse scenes (this is not A CHILD CALLED IT). Ellen bounces back and forth-past to present-- which is comforting because she is in a new foster home-- a good home-- at the end of the story-- the abuse is significant. Ellen grows through out the story-- sub plot of her only friend, a poor black girl names Starletta- lots of growth there too. A quiet, compelling book, sometimes funny--you really like Ellen-- a strong survivor. Has one of the best opening lines i ever read: "When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy."Good book. Quick Read.
Lovely, heart wrenching novel about a young girl whohas life thrown at her & her humor & spunk & determinatio help her thru.
I loved this book - it was amazing and I couldn't put it down. I subsequently searched for all Kay Gibbons' other books to devour after this one. You just lose yourself in her stories - fantastic!
10-year-old Ellen is a child living in bad circumstances when her mother kills herself leaving her alone with her abusive, alcoholic father. Ellen is a resilient child, however, and soon takes to stealing money from her father for groceries, paying the bills, and avoiding contact with him whenever possible. Things start getting worse and Ellen finds it necessary to escape her home and occasionally stay with Starletta, her young "colored" friend and their family, or with long estranged relatives willing to put her up for a night. Ellen soon finds herself passed between those who wish to help her and relatives who have their own reasons for taking her in. Ellen is truly a wonderful character, flawed in some ways but remarkably strong in others. In her wonderful language and usual perspectives, Ellen is a young lady who steals your heart as you watch her overcome unimaginable challenges in search of a "new mama". I loved this story. A truely wonderful novel that warms your heart and makes you root for the main character.
Gibbons' style reminds me of Cormac McCarthy. For me, that's no compliment. There are no quotation marks around the dialogue, making it harder to keep track of, and almost no commas as far as the eye can see. Gibbons at least could claim a rationale for what in McCarthy I can only see as an affectation. The first person narrator, Ellen Foster, is a child, poor and uneducated, so at least one could say the punctuation impoverished style fits her. That doesn't mean I found the novel a pleasure to read, and not just for stylistic reasons (though it's my biggest issue). Although it's at least short--I'd estimate the novel is only about 50 thousand words. But it's fairly bleak, even if shot through with hope since right from the beginning Ellen intersperses the story of her happy new home with her uber dysfunctional biological family (her father isn't sure if his own daughter is 9 or 10, Ellen keeps the home, even pays bills and gets herself her own Christmas gift--and that's the small stuff). There is a dark humor threaded throughout and not a bit of self-pity, but the style kept me from ever connecting with the story.
Even though this book is unlike anything I have ever read I can honestly tell you that I loved it. It took a while to get used to the writing style, considering the author did not use quotation marks or even italics to indicate dialague within the pages. It was a very short book at only 126 pages but it sure packed a punch with our spunky narrator Ellen doing what she needed to do in order to survive. Poor 'old' Ellen probably had the worst family life that one could imagine. After both of her parents pass away she finds herself being shuffled from home to home in search of a stable lifestyle. It seemed to me that one of the only stable things in Ellen's life was her friendship with Starletta. Since Starletta was a negro and segregation was just coming to an end, Ellen had a very interesting relationship with her. She couldn't have asked for a better friend than Starletta but she still managed to keep her distance in her own way.Ellen grows up quickly as she moves from home to home and learns some very valuable life lessons along the way. She learns about the different values that people have and figured out what was important to her. Knowing what she expected to gain from life she put a plan in motion to turn her dream into a reality. I don't want to say any more about this wonderful story but I will tell you that I, along with the rest of my book club just loved it. It made for a very in-depth discussion and we discovered information about the author that helped understand the story and her writing style. Here is an article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune that you may find interesting if you plan on reading any of her work. We also used discussion questions from Reading Group Guides.com that had us touch on parts of the story that we probably wouldn't have even thought about. I highly recommend this book!
When this novel opens in an unnamed Southern town, Ellen is ten years old and she is telling her story which is not always easy to hear. Ellen¿s father is an abusive parent and spouse ¿ he sits by and watches Ellen¿s mother overdose on prescription medicine, then threatens to kill his daughter if she seeks help for her mother. Ellen curls up next to her mother and waits for her to die. Later, she runs to her aunt after her father attempts to molest her¿but her safety, it turns out, is only guaranteed for a weekend after which her aunt returns her to her father¿s care.Aunt Betsy lets me off at the end of the path just like I ask and I walk the rest of the way to the house. I will just have to lock myself up is what I thought. If I have to stay here I can lock myself up. Push the chair up to the door and keep something in there to hit with just in case. ¿ from Ellen Foster, page 42 -As Ellen narrates her story, she moves back and forth from present day (living with a loving foster family) to her past. Ellen¿s voice is unique ¿ funny, determined, savvy. The story she tells is heartbreaking in its starkness, the abuse as much emotional as physical. I wanted to cry for her more than once. But Ellen is nothing but resilient and wise beyond her years, and she does not spend time crying for herself ¿ she continually holds to her dreams and moves forward against the worst of odds.I was moved by her friendship with a young black girl Starletta. Prejudice is still the norm and Ellen¿s thoughts of her friend reflects this.Starletta slides out of her chair and her mama says to take something you better eat.Starletta is not big as a minute.She came at me with a biscuit in her hand and held it to my face. No matter how good it looks to you it is still a colored biscuit. - from Ellen Foster, page 32 -Later Ellen comes to terms with the rejection of her blood relatives in the aftermath of her abuse at her father¿s hand, and in doing so, she grows to love and understand Starletta. She appreciates the difficulty of racism and finds her own struggles small compared to what Starletta and her family have had to deal with.It is the same girl but I am old now I know it is not the germs you cannot see that slide off her lips and on to a glass then to your white lips that will hurt you or turn you colored. What you had better worry about though is the people you know and trusted they would be like you because you were all made in the same batch. You need to look over your shoulder at the one who is in charge of holding you up and see if that is a knife he has in his hand. And it might not be a colored hand. But it is a knife. ¿ from Ellen Foster, page 85 -In the end Ellen must save herself when the adults in her life fail to safeguard her future. She finally finds love and acceptance through the kindness of her ¿new mama¿¿ a foster parent who opens her arms and heart to children who need her.Ellen Foster is a stunning, simple book about domestic violence, abuse and racism through the eyes of a child. Ellen is a survivor by any definition. She uses her intelligence, wisdom, and wit to overcome things that a child should never have to overcome. I grew to love this character who beats the odds and eventually finds a home where she is accepted.Kaye Gibbons has penned an important book which provides an honest, searing look into society¿s most shameful crime ¿ that of child abuse.Highly recommended.
It took me a little while to get into this book, but once I got used to the dialogue it was easy. I usually have a hard time reading books about abuse and prefer lighter stories, but I have to say the way it was written through the childs eyes and her non chalant way of talking about it made it less depressing. Kaye Gibbons did a great job of using humor to let you know that Ellens fine and she can handle herself. The style of writing is so unique and I've never read anything like it before. Even if only for that reason I think that everybody should read this book. It doesnt hurt that its not too long either. I was finished with it in 2 sittings.
The book was depressing.....we never know what children live through. This being told through the eyes of a child made it even more sad.I did keep reading, though...what an awful childhood, but she made it through.
Ellen was a really interesting character.I did enjoy this book but I was confused on what time period it was in.I thought for the longest time it was 50's possibly early 60's. Then there is a paragraph where her teacher says she was a flower child in the 60's and that made the book so different for me.I had to pretend I hadn't read that and went on with it in the decade I assumed it was in.
One of my favorite books. What amazing characters and what a testimony to resiliency.
Unique in that this story of hardship is told entirely from the point of view of a child with no adult mirroring of what is occurring - very effective.