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Ellen Foster (Oprah's Book Club)

Ellen Foster (Oprah's Book Club)

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Ellen Foster (Oprah's Book Club)

3/5 (841 ratings)
154 pages
2 hours
Oct 17, 2012


Written by Scribd Editors

“When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy.”

From the first line of this book, author Kaye Gibbons is not pulling any punches. Ellen Foster is a fictional fifth-grade girl who is abused by her alcoholic father and neglected by her depressed mother. Despite the difficulties she's endured, Ellen's spirit remains intact. Her inextinguishable light-heartedness comes to the reader through her wit and humor.

In Ellen Foster (Oprah's Book Club), Ellen tells her own story with honesty and wisdom. It is these characteristics that create such a lovable and unforgettable character in Ellen -- one that you can't help but root for.

Ellen Foster is an Oprah's Book Club selection. It is also the winner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and the Ernest Hemingway Foundation's Citation for Fiction. If you haven't already read this instant American classic, now is the time.

Oct 17, 2012

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.

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Ellen Foster (Oprah's Book Club) - Kaye Gibbons



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 bushes square.

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 to 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 scared.

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 in 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 stands 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 tells her.

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 it on, 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 am I 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 a 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 my 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 zigs-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 the bed, I say to my 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

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What people think about Ellen Foster (Oprah's Book Club)

841 ratings / 39 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    Unlike some of the other readers here, I've never kept up with the Oprah choices, and so had no idea this was on that particular list. I came to the book with no preconceived ideas.This short and intriguing novel moved at lightening speed for me, almost like a long short story. Ellen has problems, and lots of them. But in the end, this is a book about the power of human will against all odds. The plot line is a stretch, but it is fiction, after all. I loved Ellen's voice and the honesty of her emotions. Recommended.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (3/5)
    Raw and unflinching, this story told through a young girl's eyes will captivate readers. Born to a depressed mother and abusive alcoholic Ellen learns to fend for herself and to depend on the kindness of strangers, especially on the colored family down the road. When Ellen loses her mother she isn't shocked or surprised she just further goes into survival mode, bouncing from one household to the next, trying to find someone willing to care for and love a ten year old. Set in the south during the sixties, this book is sure to generate lively discussion. It's a quick read and Kaye Gibbons does a wonderful job viewing the world through a child's imagination. Witty, charming, and precious.
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    5***** and a &#10084A heart-breaking story of triumph over adversity. A young girl from an abusive family dreams of being part of the Foster family she sees in church on Sundays ... the kids are all clean and their mother is polite and kind. So she signs her name "Ellen Foster" in hopes of making her dream come true.
  • (3/5)
    Ellen Foster is a very likable character, and one who is quite spirited. I enjoyed the writing style of using the voice of a young girl, complete with incorrect word usage (romantic fever vs. rheumatic fever) and incorrect grammar. It felt very authentic.

    The transition between past and present was a little confusing for me at first, but once I found the rhythm, I was able to settle into it. It proved to be another nice way to tell the story, like Ellen was reflecting on her past.

    Ellen's struggle with the various abuses of the adults around her was handled well. Gibbons was able to convey the seriousness of the situations without making the reader cringe. The wit and wisdom in how young Ellen responds to the dangers around her was a welcome respite for me, as opposed to the more raw "Bastard Out of Carolina" by Dorothy Allison. To me, this made the book much more YA-friendly.

    Ellen's friendship with Starletta, a black student at her school, was an important theme, but I didn't see it quite as central and pivotal as was apparent at the end of the book. I found it an odd way to end this story, since there were so many other relationships that seemed to be more important.

    Overall, this was an easy book to read. It is very short, at less than 150 pages, and Ellen's outlook is hopeful throughout her troubles. I would recommend.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    The debut novel from Kaye Gibbons received excellent reviews when released, and was picked up by Oprah Winfrey's book club. It is definitely a sweet, multi-layered story of a precocious child from the Mid-West, written in first person singular, leaving much to the reader's imagination. Her life is a living hell, with an alcoholic father and a family with issues, to put in mildly. Ellen is, however, a true survivor, and although her inner life is not fully believable as a thought world of a ten year-old, she touches the reader both with her horrific experiences and her survival methods. The weakness is in the narrative there really isn't any real obstacle, we early on learn how the story will end and the only real mystery is how Ellen will get there. Still, I enjoyed reading it and was moved by the main character and by her incredible inner strength.
  • (4/5)
    Yet another winner from Kaye Gibbons, I love everything she writes.
  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    "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.
  • (5/5)
    [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. :)
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    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 that had us touch on parts of the story that we probably wouldn't have even thought about. I highly recommend this book!
  • (4/5)
    Suppose the literary spirits of Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor needed a place to stay and they settled down in author Kaye Gibbons, mixed things up a little and out came "Ellen Foster". This is a remarkable first novel that will tug at your heart, make you sad and make you chuckle and admire the spunk of a young girl who got a very bad hand dealt to her.I'd recommend this to anyone who likes southern literature and maybe everyone else too. I'm dropping this onto my favorite books by year list for 1987. I have another book by Kaye Gibbons which I am looking forward to.
  • (5/5)
    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!
  • (2/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    Lovely, heart wrenching novel about a young girl whohas life thrown at her & her humor & spunk & determinatio help her thru.
  • (3/5)
    My heart always breaks reading about kids like Ellen Foster, forced to grow up and fend for themselves well ahead of time. This tale of Southern poverty and abuse reminded me somewhat of Bastard Out Of Carolina, but it is too sketchy and brief to have that book's lasting impact.
  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    Ellen narrates the hardships she has already endured in her young life, but holds on to hope and works hard to overcome abuse and poverty.I think I must have caught some of the TV movie starring Jena Malone years back, which was what put this book on my radar. I'm not sure I would have read it at all otherwise. It's a short book but makes you slow down because the narration is sort of stream of consciousness and goes back and forth between Ellen's past and present, leaving you little hints of things that you could miss if you're reading too quickly. "Enjoy" is the wrong word for this story as so much of what happens is terribly sad, but Ellen herself is such a terrific character I kept reading to see how she pulled herself out of her circumstances.
  • (5/5)
    One of my favorite books. What amazing characters and what a testimony to resiliency.
  • (2/5)
    Ugh, life is depressing. But at least the flashback narrative form allows us to know that Ellen has made it through the worst of it.
  • (5/5)
    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

    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.