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Ellen Foster: A Novel [Hardcover]

Kaye Gibbons
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1987
In the VIRAGO MODERN CLASSICS series, from the author of SIGHTS UNSEEN, the story of an 11 year-old orphan and her battle for survival as she is driven to desperation by some wicked relatives.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; First Edition edition (May 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0912697520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0912697529
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 12.4 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,045,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Ellen Foster is a southern Holden Caulfield, tougher perhaps, as funny ... A breathtaking first novel (WALKER PERCY)

Filled with lively humour, compassion and integrity ... ellen Foster may be the most trustworthy character in recent fiction (ALICE HOFFMAN) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

Kaye Gibbons' highly acclaimed first novel --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, heartwrenching, wonderous ... 5 Jan 2008
By Mary Chrapliwy VINE VOICE
I stood by my bookcase looking at the spines of a half dozen books I haven't read yet and there was a diminutive little hardcover wedged into the mix -- Ellen Foster. I half-heartedly pulled it from the shelf and opened it to the first page and started reading a little just to see if it would be interesting enough to read. Well .... I stood rooted to that spot, standing by the bookcase, reading for some time. I was so engrossed in the story immediately that I forgot the time. This was a story that just pulls you right in and holds your heart until the end.

Poor little Ellen Foster is born to a very sickly mother with an abusive husband. Her poor mother dies near the beginning of the book, the one person who seemed to really love poor little Ellen. She is shuttled back and forth from relative to relative. They are cruel and selfish and let her know right up front that they don't want her. Gosh, your heart just breaks for this dear child. Don't want to say much more as I don't want to ruin the story for anyone.

This story is told in narrative form. It's as though little Ellen, very wise beyond her 11 years on this earth, is sitting right there next to you telling you the story of her life. There are no quotation marks, no dialog in the sense that you are used to, it's a rambling monologue about her life. You know what? You don't notice that, you just live this child's life as she tells it.

It's not all sadness as misery. It's also about triumph over the worst odds, triumph over what would knock most of us down, triumph of this wonderful little girl and where her life takes her. I love Ellen Foster.

You have got to get your hands on this book and dive in. You'll enjoy it to the point of forgetting time itself. You'll feel that Ellen Foster is a real person sitting there telling her story. Read this wonderful book ... doing so will enrich your life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Short but Touching Read 17 Sep 2008
Just a very short novel of 126 pages, but still a really moving and sometimes heartwrenching read.

Eleven year old Ellen narrates the story - there is very little in the way of punctuation but this only adds to the honest of her story. Ellen's mother dies and she is left to manage on her own as her father is a desperate alcoholic who sees Ellen as something he can ridicule and abuse. Ellen moves in with her maternal grandmother who again, like her father, treats her badly.

Finally after being shoved from pillar to post she finds her 'new mama' - a foster mother who Ellen has seen in Church.

Ellen Foster is a fascinating story - although it is obvious she is abused there is no graphic details - this is fiction and nothing like the masses of 'misery memoirs' that are on almost every book shop shelf these days.

Ellen is a simple and honest girl, but obviously full of insight and intelligence. Throughout the novel her enduring love for her black friend Starletta keeps her going through thick and thin.

A beautiful and touching story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Ellen Foster 16 July 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A quick and quirky read. Was selected as a bookclub read but was a bit short for that purpose really. But I enjoyed Gibbons' style and her choice of subject matter which is grim, but lightened by narrators wry humour.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A modern fairytale with a bit of a twist 22 Nov 2000
By A Customer
I read this book because I'm determied to read as much of Oprah Winfrey's book list as possible. I was not disappointed!
Ellen Foster is the tale of a young girl whose life is quite simply horrific.
Kaye Gibbon's page turning account is most certainly enriched by the creation of true to life fairy tale 'baddies' in the shape of Ellen's relatives. She also uses this novel to look at deeper issues such as racism and survival.
I highly recommend this book especially if your a sucker for a happy ending. If you have teens in the house this book is a must, I'm passing this on to my 14 year old cousin maybe she'll appreciate what she has when she reads this.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  397 reviews
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strength and Determination 15 Jun 2000
By S. Bishop - Published on Amazon.com
While reading this book, I saw a very strong, clear thinking, determined and self sufficient child. Her motto of doing it her 'own self' reminded me of my independence as a child.
Yet, when I saw the movie, I didn't see an empowered child. I saw a sad story of an abused and abandoned child. I laughed through the book because you couldn't tell Ellen that she wasn't in control. The girl had a plan. Yet the movie left me so choked up that I almost felt bad that I hadn't realized how alone this child was before.
I am glad I read the book first. I think the author intended to show this from Ellen's perspective and not the department of children and family services.
Oft times, people write off childrens' spirit's and strength and turn them into mindless/feelingless being who need their lives to be decided upon by not so informed adults.
Yes, Ellen Foster was a tragic story. But it was also a story of great courage a thinking mind.
It was this book that made me a Kaye Gibbons fan !
54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and Gripping... 17 Oct 2001
By "bookboarder" - Published on Amazon.com
Ellen Foster is a work of great magnitude. Kaye Gibbons has a real talent for telling this story through the eyes for poor Ellen Foster. Nothing is said very deliberately, however, the message is received. Ellen's life is a sad twist of one tragedy to the next. This is definitely not a light-hearted Southern novel. It is a gritty, tough read, but it is so well done, it is worthwhile.
You will be unable to put this book down, however difficult it may be to read.
This book definitely deserves your attention, and at the discounted price [it] is selling it for, I would highly recommend it.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping, compelling read 27 Jun 2003
By Peggy Vincent - Published on Amazon.com
Eleven-year-old Ellen Foster is an orphan, abused and neglected by her parents and finally abandoned (after her mother's death)to a series of cold or uncaring relatives. With courage, wit, and native intelligence, she finds her own path to salvation.
Sound familiar? - Like lots of other comtemporary books about child abuse? Yes, but there's a difference: the understated, matter-of-fact telling of the story that makes this book so special. 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.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short but impressive 3 Aug 2002
By Cindy - Published on Amazon.com
This is a short but engaging book that can easily be read in one sitting. Ellen Foster, the main character and narrator, is an 11 year old girl who has experienced more death and dysfunction than most people do in a lifetime. Her mother dies, her father is terribly abusive, and the remainder of the story chronicles her jostling from one relative's house to another- until she finally finds a home where she is truly cared for.
Kaye Gibbons writes in choppy, incomplete sentences as one can imagine the grounded and brutually-honest Ellen might speak. The book flashes back from past to present, but Ellen's child-like yet suprisingly mature tone remains the same throughout. She is a strong and lovable character. Her relationship with a "colored" girl Starletta is another high point of the book, and Gibbons manages to hit on the subjects of society's "rules" and racial prejudice without seeming redundant. This book alerted me to not only Ellen's plight but the plight of all children who fall subject to the court, social services, and the foster care system.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ellen Foster 11 May 2001
By Amy Kung - Published on Amazon.com
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 nave^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 nave 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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