by Kaye Gibbons
"When i was little i would think of ways to kill my daddy." (Gibbons 1)
"I stayed off by myself and figured most every thing out." (Gibbons 74)
Ellen Foster is a book about a young girl who is forced to grow up far to early. In the beginning she lives with her alcoholic father and her sick mother. Ellen's mother decides that she wants to give up, and overdoses on pills. Her father stays out more and when he comes home he starts to bring his colored friends. Ellen's father is a bad man, and shows no interest in her. After Ellen over hears one of her dads friends talking about lying with her, she runs away and soon moves in with her art teacher. The court calls Ellen in and forces her to move in with her Mama's Mama. Here she is shown no love and is told to work in the field with the colored. One day her Mama's Mama hears of Ellen's daddy passing, and begins to really lay into her with cruelness. While Ellen is living here, her Mama's Mama gets sick and Ellen has to take care of her as she slowly dies. One of her relatives, Nadine and her daughter Dora, take Ellen in when no one else will. This doesn't mean they want her though, Ellen is picked on by Nadine and Dora on Christmas to the point where she leaves and walks to the Foster lady's house. Ellen moves in with her new mama and feels her luck is returning, after a while she asks if Starletta can stay the night. That Friday Starletta does stay the weekend and this is Ellen's way of getting even with her after all these years of treating her differently based on her color.
Kaye Gibbons has a troubled childhood, she grew up with a tin roof an alcoholic father and no electricity or running water. Her mother committed suicide when she was ten, and her father passed three years later. Gibbons' was then passed around from relatives to foster parents (much like Ellen Foster) before permanently living with her older brother. Soon attending North Carolina University, she was diagnosed with manic-depression. Kaye G. achieved her degree in American Literature in 1987.
Coming of Age
This book shows the reader a coming of age theme because of the obstacles that the mIn character faces and how she overcomes them. Ellen starts out as a tough cookie, but as the novel progresses she has to grow quickly in order to save herself. In the beginning she faces her mother eventual death "I will stay with you. Just for a nap I will stay here with you." (Gibbons 5) she shows great maturity in taking after her mother when her father ignores it. The young girl manages to get out of this hole, but ends up in another one. Ellen says, "And all this time I thought I had the hardest row to hoe. That will always amaze me." (Gibbons 126) at the end of the novel. She shows us how her views have changed and how going through a traumatic childhood made her think of herself and other equally. Ellen is humorous, clever, and is completely honest in her story.
New York Times
"What might have been grim, melodramatic material in the hands of a less talented author is instead filled with lively humor (''I was too smart to let somebody find me living with a dead lady the second time around,'' Ellen says after her grandmother dies), compassion and intimacy. This short novel focuses on Ellen's strengths rather than her victimization, presenting a memorable heroine who rescues herself."