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5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book---you will also
The conundrum---what to do? The book is told from the perspective of an eleven-year-old girl (think along the lines of Sue Monk Kidd's SECRET LIFE OF BEES). I was thinking, "Oh, no. Not again." But as usual the author handles the material expertly. But what do you do when the main character is the one telling the story, yet her grammar is terrible? Do you leave in the...
Published on June 5 2005 by Jean Poole

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars ...and I still don't know.
Kaye Gibbons, Ellen Foster (Vintage, 1987)
So I finished this novel coming up on two weeks ago now, and I've been letting it marinate. I don't normally do that; I try to write reviews within a couple of days to keep everything fresh in my head. But when I finished Ellen Foster, all the voice in my head said was "...I don't know...", so I figured it's get clearer as I...
Published on Aug. 11 2003 by Robert Beveridge


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5.0 out of 5 stars Ellen Foster, Feb. 25 2002
This review is from: Ellen Foster: A Novel (Paperback)
This is a wonderful piece of autobiographical fiction. Ellen comes from the dysfunctional home of a too-sick mother and a drunken, abusive father. She has learned early to take care, rather than be cared for. Ellen encounters other relatives as well, who should be her champions but are not. There are also many characters who give Ellen a glimpse at a better life: the librarian who helps her find books "of some account". Julia, the art teacher, who takes her into her happy but unconventional home, the mother of her black friend (in a very prejudiced South), and the foster mother, who understands the need for order and accepting love. All of these folks help Ellen to see a different, more desirable side to life.
Through the first person narrative approach Gibbon's gives readers a good look at the life of an 11 year old girl. While confusing for some, the book is written in a style (vernacular, often without punctuation and quotation marks) that makes readers understand Ellen's story from her unique point of view. Gibbon's is successful in leading the reader to examine old themes, such as prejudice, from a very fresh perspective.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Trials of a Young Southern Girl, Feb. 18 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Ellen Foster (Hardcover)
Ellen Foster is an excellent way to express the value of the "American Dream." The ideal "American Dream" is an upper middle class, white, suburban, loving family. The family has two loving parents living in a two-story house with a white picket fence. Kaye Gibbons, the author, shows the opposite of this "ideal" dream. Ellen Foster is a Southern eleven-year-old girl who takes on the responsibilities of her drunken father and terribly ill mother until they both pass away. Gibbons shows how Ellen crosses broken bridges and is able to mature despite her hardships. Ellen suffers from a dysfunctional family, race-biased thoughts against her African-American friends, emotionally inflicted violence, and even a form of sexual abuse.
Ellen's character can relate to Toni Morrison's character, Pecola, found in The Bluest Eye. In The Bluest Eye, Pecola is an unwanted African-American girl who also searches for the "American Dream" of two loving parents in a happy home. Pecola longs for the love and support of others. Unlike Ellen, Pecola feels the only way to be accepted is if she is to change a physical aspect of herself.
Throughout the trials and tribulations of her life, Ellen manages to hold on to the hope that her troubled home and past is not all that there is to life. She searches for nothing more than a few dollars in her pocket, a belly full of wonderful food, and an unconventional family who loves her and provides her safety and support.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Ellen F., Nov. 3 2001
By 
ReneeAyers (Senatobia, MS.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ellen Foster: A Novel (Paperback)
Ellen Foster is told through a young narrator who paints an extraordinary self-portrait. Ellen is a child whose courage and humor with her a place in everyone's heart. Ellen's first eleven years are a long fight for survival. Her abused mother commits suicide, leaving Ellen to the mercies of her father, a drunken monster who either ignores her or makes sexual threats. Through her intelligence and determination, Ellen is able to provide for herself, but her desperate attempts to create an environment of order are continuously ruined by her father. 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 unshakeable faith in the possibility of good. She never loses her sense of humor. Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, is an original, compelling, and frightening real novel.
By: Renee Ayers & Misty Browning
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book!, Oct. 14 2001
This review is from: Ellen Foster: A Novel (Paperback)
Ellen Foster is a wonderful book! Although it is relatively short and written in a simple manner, it is extremely moving and powerful. Kaye Gibbons (the author) wrote the book in first person format. The words come directly from the mind of an 11-year-old girl. There is little punctuation and a lot of dialect (which can make the text difficult to follow at times). However, this style adds to the setting and feeling of the book.
Ellen is the girl in the story. She comes from a very dysfunctional family. Her mother is deceased, her father is abusive and she has a host of other family members who really do not care about her. In addition to this, she is exposed to poverty, drugs and alcohol. She has a black friend/acquaintance throughout the story (Starletta) whom Ellen thinks of as being dirty and having a terrible life. For most of the story Ellen does not realize that she actually has a worse life than Starletta. Through wit, courage and shear determination Ellen is able to get herself into a better living situation and position herself to have a much better life. In the end she realizes the friendship she has with Starletta and is able to put aside her thoughts of superiority. Although abuse and neglect occur all to frequently in today's life, few people have the strength and fortitude to overcome it as Ellen was able to do.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Lost Interest, Sept. 16 2001
By 
Veronica (Fairfield, Ca) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ellen Foster: A Novel (Paperback)
I read Ellen Foster over the summer for my English honors class.The first sentence really caught my eye,"When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy." I said to myself, "now why would anyone want to do that?" So that's how my interest started in this book. I began to really like it because it wasn't about this happy family that always gets along. That type of a family that you read about; that always has a smile on their face and eveyone says how they feel because they're so open with one another. That is so overrated and cliche`.This book was raw and Elenn told it like it is. Not all families are great and get along, infact every family has something wrong with it. It may be something small or it can be something that's a real issue. In Ellen's case it was a big issue, a father that didn't care for her and mollested her and a mother who was sick and died. I don't know how Ellen seemed to get over it so quickly, I would have gone crazy. I guess the years of abuse that her father inflicted on her and her mother made her strong. Or maybe she just is totally numb toward the whole thing and she doesn't know how to feel. The southern dialect did confuse me a little, like " I didn't know her good and she caused a knot in me just thinking about it." Just little things like not using qoutes or commas. Sometimes I would get a little confused if there was more than one person talking then I would't know who was who. This made me frustrated and I didn't want to read the book knowing that I would be easily confused if Ellen didn't state who she was talking to. I would then have to go back, re-read it and then I can go on reading normally until I bacame confused once again by a sentence with little or no punctuation except a period. So overall, this was a pretty decent book. I liked that it was very real, but towards the end I lost interest.
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5.0 out of 5 stars HANG IN THERE, ELLEN, June 8 2001
By 
Mary Allen "Mary B Allen" (HARRISBURG, PA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ellen Foster: A Novel (Paperback)
In ELLEN FOSTER, author Kaye Gibbons becomes 11-year old Ellen in the first-person voice. All of her thoughts, emotions and circumstances are described in vivid detail. Although this story is heartwrenching, it is easy for us to understand Ellen as she goes through her trials and hardships.
Young Ellen, who is grieving her recently-deceased mother and hating her alcoholic father, has taken the last name, "Foster," because she wants to go and live with a happy family of foster children who reside in her town.
When Ellen gladly leaves her father, she is shuffled between relatives; an aunt who doesn't want her, a bitter and abusive grandmother, and an aunt and cousin who want to make her feel like a burden. Her only respite through this time is a kind teacher with whom Ellen lives until the teacher has to move out of town.
Through it all, Ellen knows, deep down inside, that she's OK. She has developed survival skills. She's determined to be a good person. But she needs a break. Now if only she can become a part of that "foster" family, she knows she'll be loved and that she'll belong.
ELLEN FOSTER is excellent study into the mind of a displaced child. It's also a true, but ugly, statement of how some adults treat these children.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Ellen Foster, May 11 2001
By 
Amy Kung (St. Louis, MO USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ellen Foster: A Novel (Paperback)
Ellen Foster is an undeniably captivating book that touches on many issues such as love, acceptance,racial relations, family, and identity. This book is strategically written and will make the reader reflect and ponder matters, even after finishing the reading. I enjoyed reading Ellen Foster immensely and would recommend it to anyone. This book is a coming of age story about a resilient eleven-year-old girl, Ellen Foster. The experiences she engages in are definitely not typical for a girl of her age: her parents and grandmother die in the story, she is poverty stricken, and abused. As a result, Ellen is forced to mature faster. She pays bills, goes grocery shops, and even reads "older" books in school, claiming, "I can hardly tolerate the stories we read for school. Cindy or Lou with the dog or cat." Ellen is also on a constant search for a home and family after her immediate family falls apart. When she finally finds a home with her teacher, she is taken away by the court and sent to live with her Grandmother, a bitter and heartless woman. Ellen's childhood seems to be full of these ups and downs such as this, but she always seems to make the best of the situation. Given the misfortunes in her childhood, her strength and independence really shine through, leaving the reader with hope and inspiration. Ellen Foster is also a book about social tribulations in our society. Set in the time of the civil rights movement, Ellen's character and her identity move with the movement. In the beginning of the novel, it is apparent that her family and society as a whole has an affect on how she views colored people. Even though her best friend, Starletta, is a black girl, Ellen still thinks of her as "dirty." She says, "As fond as I am of all three of them [Starletta and her parents] I do not think I could drink after them. I try to see what Starletta leaves on the lip of the bottle but I have never I try to see what Starletta leaves on the lip of the bottle but I have never seen anything with the naked eye." Ellen is ignorant and naïve^×a product of the society's prejudices. It is as if she takes what others say for granted. Later, though, she realizes that skin color does not matter and even says she would lick the glass Starletta drank from to prove her fondness towards her friend. Kaye Gibbons really captivates readers through the child narration style she writes in. Writing in this manner, with no commas, no quotations, gives the reader a sense of what and how Ellen is feeling and thinking. Gibbons uses this writing style and first person narration to focus more on how Ellen handles her situations through humor, instead of dwelling in misery and self-pity. The style of writing is almost in a stream of consciousness, especially because of the frequent switching of times- past and present. The best thing about this book is that you can actually "see" and experience first hand the transformation of Ellen's character with each encounter and event that takes place. I thought towards the end of the book, she even started to speak in an "older" manner. Ellen describes situations in a manner so matter-of-fact and naïve that even the most controversial ones seem innocent. At times, I had to read in between the lines to grasp the severity of events. The main characters in this book were well developed, in spite of the book being a bit short. I found myself either really liking the characters, such as her "new mama" and Julie and Roy, or really disliking the characters, such as her "mama's mama" and her father. The opinions I formedare definitely biased because the book is written in first person point of view. Ellen's character has been likened to Huck Finn's in that both are written from a child's perspective and highlight racial relations. Ellen's best friend is Starletta, an African American girl, and Huck's friend is Jim, a runaway slave. Both Ellen and Huck also lack parental roles, which is clearly impacted in the way they think and the maturity they are forced into. Ellen Foster serves as a heroic character in this book. She has strength, courage, never seems to pity herself, independence, and a matter of fact way of talking. The revelation Ellen comes to at the end of the novel epitomize her understanding of the world, but moreover exemplifies her maturity and humility. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone. Ellen's spirit and innocent way of viewing the world never cease to amaze me, given the circumstances and traumatic experiences she goes through. She is truly an inspiration to us all.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Once Lost But Now Found, Jan. 7 2001
By 
This review is from: Ellen Foster (Hardcover)
"Ellen Foster" is a wonderful story. Not only does it take you on the journey of a little girl becoming a young woman but it completely changes your way of thinking. Poverty and terror has reined on this poor girls life and yet she only becomes stronger. Ellen suffers many losses that make her a strong, intellegent young woman in the end. Within the book we are shown reality through an abused and beaten little girl. She lives in a house with a drunken, abusive father, and a sickly, deprived, suicidale mother. Ellen takes care of herself and her family until tragedy strucks and she is set to sail her small life journey on the ocean of filth. Our world is cruel and this is what Ellen, as well as I, have learned from her experiences. She will take every world as a dollar and spend the treasure on her newly found life. The people she meets and the friends, or foes, she makes change her fate as she lives her life. Although she would not see it then, she will certainly see the outcome of the events that have altered her young world. Kaye Gibbons curses her readers to the reality we are all blinded by. We see the crime through the eyes of the victim and I will never be the same. I have been awaken from a dream that illistrates the world as perfect. This book really reveils the truth behind hiding children. Those who seem beautiful on the outside are painted with pain on the inside. This book is definately one that would not catch my eye in a pile of Stephen King suspense thrillers but after experiencing the hurt within this young child's life, I am delighted to have read this book. Gibbons has prepared a tasteful dish of delight and I would love to share the main dish with those who are willing to open their eyes and maybe even dare to try a little dessert.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The life of a disturbed child, Jan. 3 2001
By 
Kristin (The USA baby!) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ellen Foster: A Novel (Paperback)
'Ellen Foster' is a book written about the life of a young girl growing up in a world full of poverty and abuse from her drunken father. Her mother eventually gets fed up with her husbands torment and physical abuse, and over-doses on her heart medication, leading to a painless death. Ellen must grow up learning the hardships of being passed from her furious father to her kind-hearted teacher to her heartless grandmother and eventually to a new loving family where she finally reaches peace and contentment.
The plot is very affective in this piece. Kaye Gibbons does a wonderful job of entrapping the reader in Ellen's life of detriment. She uses flashbacks to relate Ellen's newfound life to her old memories of pain and horror. For example, at the very beginning of the piece, Gibbons writes: "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." This shows how she relates back to her past. Gibbons is also very good about setting the scene. I was able to really picture her life and where she lived. And the sybolism is extraordinary. Relating this story to my life was very easy. Her drunk father represented all the obstacles in my life and working in the fields as a slave represented how I have to really work hard to eventually get to where I want to be. It was very easy for me to see myself in this story.
This book is not like any of the books I usually enjoy reading. It was very specific and to the point, and I loved that about it. It really let me see exactly where Ellen was coming from.
This book was very good. I think that most people would enjoy it because it lets the reader make a metaphore from it. It's is also fairly short so it was very easy for me to read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Ellen's Life, Jan. 3 2001
This review is from: Ellen Foster (Hardcover)
The point of literature is to evoke the universal human emotions such as jubilation and depression. Therefore, a book's success is judged on the extent to which it can manipulate the reader's emotion. On that scale, Kaye Gibbons' book, Ellen Foster, soars off the charts. The book puts the neglected Ellen in the reader's conscience as she falls through life's pitfalls. Ellen is a preteen who was born into a home without a heart. The father was not sober long enough to tie his own shoes, but drunk enough to issue orders to his wife and daughter on a whim. Ellen's mother seems defies the 13th Amendment because she acts like little more than a drunkard's slave. However, the maternal side of Ellen's family tree is well off, but for an inexplicable reason Ellen is never accepted into their delicate world of two-edged swords. She learns from her experiences and grows into precocious child who can function as an adult if the situation requires it. For instance, she budgeted her father's household expenses as he fell asleep with a beer in his hand. Another adult symptom that she carries, is being materialistic. She looked down on her black friend's house because it lacked plumbing. However, the vital signs of being a child still beat. This is evident when her nominal racist tendencies dissipate and she turns into an open-minded youth. Also, she, like all little children, loves sleepovers and Christmas. Still even when she is acting like a child, she is thinking like an adult. This complex girl from the rural south in the post-hippie era faces in eleven years the rejection, death, and thankfulness that some people will never face in a lifetime. Still she perseveres the entire ordeal to find a home with a heart. She finds it in the most unlikely of places. This story will open your eyes to the world of abused children. This fiction tale seems to be non-fiction at times as it details the life of Ellen in "The System." Her first person account will grip anyone with a heart. This book is not aimed at any category of society accept the portion with eyes to read or ears to listen. Read this book. It will not disappoint you.
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Ellen Foster: A Novel by Kaye Gibbons (Paperback - Nov. 5 1997)
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