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Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

Ellen Foster (original 1987; edition 1990)

by Kaye Gibbons

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3,045582,933 (3.69)1 / 127
Having suffered abuse and misfortune for much of her life, a young child searches for a better life and finally gets a break in the home of a loving woman with several foster children.
Title:Ellen Foster
Authors:Kaye Gibbons
Info:Vintage (1990), Edition: 1st, Paperback, 144 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons (1987)

  1. 52
    The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (rbtanger)
  2. 20
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (petterw)
    petterw: Similarly, Ellen Foster tells a story in the voice of a child, and the reader must fill in the blanks.
  3. 10
    The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  4. 01
    Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff (rbtanger)
    rbtanger: Although Ellen Foster was written with an adult audience in mind and Pictures of Hollis Woods was written for YA, the two books share a common theme as well as being beautifully written. The joy of Hope is central to both.

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Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
I read this book as a recommendation from a friend and was lucky enough to find it at the Public library... It was a great read and quick! I love how the book starts out- "When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figuare out this or that way and run it through my head until it got easy."

It made me wonder what this story was about- what had this poor 11 year old girl gone through.
Ellen Foster was a deeply delightful story from her point of vision. ( )
  SandraBrower | Oct 27, 2019 |
Although this book could be a little depressing, I found it a book worth reading. Fast read. I recommend it. ( )
  MichelleGO | Apr 30, 2019 |
Another short one, it seems like a year for that. 'Ellen Foster' is written in one of the most convincing young voices I've come across, and thank God early on you know there's a happy ending, because Ellen's life is rough.

The novel goes back and forth between Ellen's present and the past two years of her life. Ellen matter-of-factually, and without self-pity, relates what's happening to her, her family, and her friend Starletta, all interspersed with the details of her life and her daydreams.

I try not to go by blurbs, but one from the inside cover from the 'Philadelphia Inquirer' clinches it: "'Ellen Foster' the book is as original and irresistible as Ellen Foster the character. [Ellen's story] is enough to break your heart--except that Ellen never lets it break hers." ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Her mother dead, her father poor , drunk and abusive, her maternal grandma an embittered and mentally ill woman...the ten year old narrator tells of her journey from one home to another...the family she was placed with- and returned from - and her final successful placement with a local woman, from whom she eventually takes a new surname- "I heard they were the Foster family." And the (curiously unknowable) lifelong friend, Starletta - daughter of an impoverished but kindly coloured family, for whom Ellen notices her feelings changing, from the perspective of inculcated white superiority to a true valuation of the girl as an equal.
She's a sparky, intelligent and self reliant child, and it tells a story, but not massively memorable. ( )
  starbox | Nov 16, 2018 |
Kaye Gibbons is not a writer I have read before, but last year I spotted two of her books in a second-hand book shop and took a chance. Ellen Foster; was her first novel and it tells the poignant story of a precocious eleven-year-old. Hers, is an unforgettable voice, and through her eyes we witness a world of broken family, neglect and poverty, as she experiences casual violence and fear, things no child her age should live with.

“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.”

Ellen is the child of a sick mother and a drunk, abusive father. Ellen is around nine as the novel opens, though the story is told from a distance of a couple of years later, when Ellen’s life has changed, and she is living with her ‘new mama’. The family she was born into, live in the rural south, it is somewhere around the late seventies – though I often felt it could have easily been twenty years earlier. There is still a lot of unofficial white/black segregation in the community. Though Ellen’s father has a group of black, drinking buddies, Ellen has been brought up believing she mustn’t stay overnight at her friend Starletta’s house or eat or drink anything while there. Starletta’s family are poor but kind, and it becomes a place where Ellen seeks refuge, a place where she can feel safe.

“I might be confused sometimes in my head but it is not something you need to talk about. Before you can talk you have to line it all up in order and I had rather just let it swirl around until I am too tired to think. You just let the motion in your head wear you out. Never think about it. You just make a bigger mess that way.”

Ellen’s mother is fragile, she cannot cope with the world in which she lives, and so one day as Ellen lays resting next to her she overdoses. With her mother dead, Ellen finds it wiser to stay as far away from her father as she can. Deciding she doesn’t want to live with him any longer she packs a bag and calls her Aunt Betsy and invites herself to stay. Betsy is one of Ellen’s mother’s sisters. At the end of a happy weekend with Betsy, it is revealed that Betsy had only expected her niece to stay for the weekend – not for good! Ellen is on her own again, forced to return to her father.

When the school spot bruises on Ellen’s body, she embarks on a series of temporary solutions. First, she stays with one of her school teachers, Julia and her husband Roy. Here Ellen feels cared for although she doesn’t always understand their way of life. Her time with Julia is short – and her grandmother – her ‘mama’s mama’ is awarded custody.

Mama’s Mama is a truly awful woman, mean and desperately cruel – she hates Ellen’s father and takes her hatred out on Ellen in the most dreadful ways. Ellen is tough little cookie, when she is put to work in the cotton fields under the scorching summer sun, she gets on with it, making friends with her fellow workers. When her vile grandmother falls ill, she takes care of her, the best way this poor, almost broken child can.

“She died in spite of me.
I tried to make her keep breathing and she stopped I blew air in her like I should have. She did not live but at least I did not slip into a dream beside her. I just stood by the bed and looked at her dead with her face pleasant now to trick Jesus. I said to her the score is two to one now. I might have my mama’s soul to worry over but you’ve got my daddy’s and your own. The score is two to one but I win.
I stood over her hoping she was the last dead person I knew for a while.”

Next to take Ellen in, is Aunt Nadine, her mother’s other sister – who Betsy has been fighting with since the funeral. Life at Nadine’s house is not happy either. Nadine’s daughter Dora is a spoilt, spiteful little madame who instantly makes Ellen feel out of place. On Christmas day things come to a head, and Ellen walks out – heading for the house of the lady with the nice calm, well behaved children who she had spotted at church. She had heard the woman referred to as the Foster woman who will take anyone in. So, Ellen knocks at her door on Christmas day – and is taken in. Ellen has misunderstood the Foster part – assuming it is her new mama’s name she starts calling herself Ellen Foster.

Ellen finds life at her new mama’s house to suit her just right, there’s a pony to ride and a large family who are immediately welcoming. From the way this novel is structured we know from the beginning that Ellen has a new life – a life she is happy in finally. I think it is that knowledge that makes this novel easier to read, as the reader knows that we won’t be left feeling hopeless at the end. In fact, there is a lot that is joyful and life affirming in how Ellen emerges at the end of this slight novel, and I had high hopes for her going forward. She reconnects with her friend Starletta, making the necessary readjustments to her racial attitudes.

The other novel I have by Kaye Gibbons is Sights Unseen – which I believe has a similarly rural setting. Based upon this powerful little novel, I have reason to look forward to it. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | May 28, 2018 |
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Cast the bantling on the rocks, Suckle him with the she-worlf's teat, Wintered with the hawk and fox, Power and speed be hands and feet. -Inscription to "Self-Reliance" Ralph Waldo Emeron
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When I was little I would think of ways to kill my Daddy.
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