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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.

Topics: Coming of Age, Child Abuse, Foster Care, Survival, First Person Narration, North Carolina, Bildungsroman, Debut, and Race Relations

Published: Workman eBooks on
ISBN: 9781616203085
List price: $13.95
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There's one major disappointment with this book: the fact that I've had this on my bookshelf for almost 11 years, and I just got around to reading it.

Oprah chose Ellen Foster as her Book Club pick on October 27, 1997. I received this as a Christmas gift that same year but for some unknown reason - another more compelling book, perhaps - I never read it. Sure, I glanced at it from time to time, but mostly as it was packed, unpacked, and repacked - and then packed, unpacked and repacked again - and still again a third time, as we moved to three separate residences in 11 years.

Eleven is also the age of Ellen, the protagonist of this exquisite novel. Orphaned, Ellen herself is sent packing after the death of her abusive father (which follows her mother's suicide). The novel deals with Ellen's quest for home in every sense of the word - shelter, yes, but also a place of belonging and acceptance. From Oprah.com:

Ellen's first eleven years are a long fight for survival. Her invalid, abused mother commits suicide, leaving Ellen to the mercies of her daddy, a drunken brute who either ignores her or makes sexual threats. Through her intelligence and grit Ellen is able to provide for herself, but her desperate attempts to create an environment of order and decorum within her nightmarish home are repeatedly foiled by her father. After his death, a judge awards Ellen's custody to her mother's mother, a bitter and vengeful woman who hated her son-in-law for ruining her own daughter's life and who hates the child Ellen for her physical resemblance to him.Against all odds, Ellen never gives up her belief that there is a place for her in the world, a home which will satisfy all her longing for love, acceptance, and order. Her eventual success in finding that home and courageously claiming it as her own is a testimony to her unshakable faith in the possibility of good. She never loses that faith, and she never loses her sense of humor. Ellen Foster, like another American classic, Huckleberry Finn, is for all its high comedy ultimately a serious fable of personal and collective responsibility.

This is a quick read (only 126 pages) and if you have the opportunity to listen to it on audio (as I did), I recommend that version also. Although similar themes have been portrayed in other works, Ellen Foster is an exceptional, compelling and emotional story. As a first novel, this book is a true triumph for the author Kaye Gibbons. As someone who enjoys Southern fiction, I enjoyed this tremendously and look forward to reading more of Kaye Gibbons' work - within the next decade, to be sure.more
Meh. I had a bit of a hard time following this book, and left several days in between readings. It really never captured my interest, and there were some formatting problems with the Kindle edition (no extra spaces between scene shifts) that were confusing. Ellen herself wasn't terribly likeable, or interesting.more
Some children are born into circumstances beyond their control. Ellen is one of those children. The daughter of an alcoholic, abusive father, Ellen bears witness to her mother's death. Having been responsible for herself and her mother, she now finds herself completely alone and determined to steer clear of the man who is supposed to be her father. The reader journeys with this bright and cunning child, as she finds safety and comfort in the home of her art teacher and husband. However, that is short lived, as the courts award Ellen's grandmother custody. Again, Ellen is placed in a situation where she is emotionally abused, however Ellen manages to find herself and keep herself sane as she unwinds the next phase of her life. Ellen is a determined young woman, and the reader finds themselves cheering her on.more
I really didn't like this book. I had to read it for an English class my sophomore year of high school, and maybe I wasn't quite "getting" it or something, but I just don't see why they chose this book to be one we should read. I know a lot of books people read for classes aren't fun in a story sense, but they make contributions to literature in other ways. I didn't see how this book did that, and the story wasn't good enough to make up for it.Basically, the issue I have with this book is that it's so very maudlin. I kind of don't know how else to put it other than that it's more Dickensian than even Dickens himself wrote. I was supposed to feel for this poor little girl who has nobody to rely on but herself, but the WAY in which all the adults around her lash out at her and how the books treats it and how she can't catch a break just don't feel realistic. I'm about to go into some spoilers here, so skip between the tags if you don't want to be spoiled.**SPOILERS**Her father is sexually abusing her, and shows up at her school screaming that he'll "pay for it", waving money around, and gets arrested. She gets put into the custody of her grandmother, who for some reason just wants to be as vicious to her 10-year-old granddaughter as she can, and makes her do actual fieldwork, picking crops in the sun, then verbally abuses her as Ellen tends to her while the grandmother's dying. Then Ellen gets put into the custody of her aunt, who has a daughter Ellen's age, and they both think they're better than everybody. Ellen has no money for Christmas presents, so she makes her cousin a painting of a cat, and then overhears the cousin tell her mother that the gift is "tacky". Am I supposed to expect that a ten-year-old can be that snobby, or that two people would really hold it against a little girl that she's giving people handmade paintings for gifts because she doesn't have money of her own? And then she finally presents herself to the woman in town who adopts little girls (I don't know what that's about), and asks if she'll take her in...while offering the woman her jar of pennies, her life's savings, as payment for her upkeep. That was the final straw for me, where the book was just too ridiculous.**SPOILERS OVER!!!***I kind of can't help but think it's no wonder this thing made Oprah's book list, that's kind of the best way I can describe it. If you like stories about little girls suffering that are trying to be sold to the reader as tales of self-reliance and strength, and you have a strong capacity for suspension of disbelief and a high tolerance for authors who work hard at pulling your heartstrings, you might enjoy this book. Personally, I found it insipid and a little insulting to me as a reader, that this book is being hailed by so many people.more
Read all 29 reviews

Reviews

There's one major disappointment with this book: the fact that I've had this on my bookshelf for almost 11 years, and I just got around to reading it.

Oprah chose Ellen Foster as her Book Club pick on October 27, 1997. I received this as a Christmas gift that same year but for some unknown reason - another more compelling book, perhaps - I never read it. Sure, I glanced at it from time to time, but mostly as it was packed, unpacked, and repacked - and then packed, unpacked and repacked again - and still again a third time, as we moved to three separate residences in 11 years.

Eleven is also the age of Ellen, the protagonist of this exquisite novel. Orphaned, Ellen herself is sent packing after the death of her abusive father (which follows her mother's suicide). The novel deals with Ellen's quest for home in every sense of the word - shelter, yes, but also a place of belonging and acceptance. From Oprah.com:

Ellen's first eleven years are a long fight for survival. Her invalid, abused mother commits suicide, leaving Ellen to the mercies of her daddy, a drunken brute who either ignores her or makes sexual threats. Through her intelligence and grit Ellen is able to provide for herself, but her desperate attempts to create an environment of order and decorum within her nightmarish home are repeatedly foiled by her father. After his death, a judge awards Ellen's custody to her mother's mother, a bitter and vengeful woman who hated her son-in-law for ruining her own daughter's life and who hates the child Ellen for her physical resemblance to him.Against all odds, Ellen never gives up her belief that there is a place for her in the world, a home which will satisfy all her longing for love, acceptance, and order. Her eventual success in finding that home and courageously claiming it as her own is a testimony to her unshakable faith in the possibility of good. She never loses that faith, and she never loses her sense of humor. Ellen Foster, like another American classic, Huckleberry Finn, is for all its high comedy ultimately a serious fable of personal and collective responsibility.

This is a quick read (only 126 pages) and if you have the opportunity to listen to it on audio (as I did), I recommend that version also. Although similar themes have been portrayed in other works, Ellen Foster is an exceptional, compelling and emotional story. As a first novel, this book is a true triumph for the author Kaye Gibbons. As someone who enjoys Southern fiction, I enjoyed this tremendously and look forward to reading more of Kaye Gibbons' work - within the next decade, to be sure.more
Meh. I had a bit of a hard time following this book, and left several days in between readings. It really never captured my interest, and there were some formatting problems with the Kindle edition (no extra spaces between scene shifts) that were confusing. Ellen herself wasn't terribly likeable, or interesting.more
Some children are born into circumstances beyond their control. Ellen is one of those children. The daughter of an alcoholic, abusive father, Ellen bears witness to her mother's death. Having been responsible for herself and her mother, she now finds herself completely alone and determined to steer clear of the man who is supposed to be her father. The reader journeys with this bright and cunning child, as she finds safety and comfort in the home of her art teacher and husband. However, that is short lived, as the courts award Ellen's grandmother custody. Again, Ellen is placed in a situation where she is emotionally abused, however Ellen manages to find herself and keep herself sane as she unwinds the next phase of her life. Ellen is a determined young woman, and the reader finds themselves cheering her on.more
I really didn't like this book. I had to read it for an English class my sophomore year of high school, and maybe I wasn't quite "getting" it or something, but I just don't see why they chose this book to be one we should read. I know a lot of books people read for classes aren't fun in a story sense, but they make contributions to literature in other ways. I didn't see how this book did that, and the story wasn't good enough to make up for it.Basically, the issue I have with this book is that it's so very maudlin. I kind of don't know how else to put it other than that it's more Dickensian than even Dickens himself wrote. I was supposed to feel for this poor little girl who has nobody to rely on but herself, but the WAY in which all the adults around her lash out at her and how the books treats it and how she can't catch a break just don't feel realistic. I'm about to go into some spoilers here, so skip between the tags if you don't want to be spoiled.**SPOILERS**Her father is sexually abusing her, and shows up at her school screaming that he'll "pay for it", waving money around, and gets arrested. She gets put into the custody of her grandmother, who for some reason just wants to be as vicious to her 10-year-old granddaughter as she can, and makes her do actual fieldwork, picking crops in the sun, then verbally abuses her as Ellen tends to her while the grandmother's dying. Then Ellen gets put into the custody of her aunt, who has a daughter Ellen's age, and they both think they're better than everybody. Ellen has no money for Christmas presents, so she makes her cousin a painting of a cat, and then overhears the cousin tell her mother that the gift is "tacky". Am I supposed to expect that a ten-year-old can be that snobby, or that two people would really hold it against a little girl that she's giving people handmade paintings for gifts because she doesn't have money of her own? And then she finally presents herself to the woman in town who adopts little girls (I don't know what that's about), and asks if she'll take her in...while offering the woman her jar of pennies, her life's savings, as payment for her upkeep. That was the final straw for me, where the book was just too ridiculous.**SPOILERS OVER!!!***I kind of can't help but think it's no wonder this thing made Oprah's book list, that's kind of the best way I can describe it. If you like stories about little girls suffering that are trying to be sold to the reader as tales of self-reliance and strength, and you have a strong capacity for suspension of disbelief and a high tolerance for authors who work hard at pulling your heartstrings, you might enjoy this book. Personally, I found it insipid and a little insulting to me as a reader, that this book is being hailed by so many people.more
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.more
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.more
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