Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

Here is a summary of Ellen Foster from the Random House website:

"When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy," [p. 1] says eleven-year-old Ellen. Thus the young narrator begins her life-story, in the process painting an extraordinary self-portrait: Ellen is a child whose courage and humor win her a place in literature alongside J. D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield. 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.


My Review:
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.  I knew I was hooked when the following sentence from page two made me laugh out loud:
I figure I made out pretty good considering the rest of my family is either dead or crazy.

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 Guides.com that had us touch on parts of the story that we probably wouldn't have even thought about.  I highly recommend this book!

My Rating:  5/5

Disclosure:  This book was from my personal collection that I read as a book club selection.

You can check out more great book reviews at Cym Lowell's Book Review Party Wednesday!

13 comments:

Laura's Reviews said...

Great review! I've had this book sitting on my "to-read" shelf for years. I need to pick it up one of these days . . .

bermudaonion said...

I wonder what the deal is with leaving out quotation marks these days. It takes me a little while to adjust when a book does that. I've looked at this book several times - I think I need to pick it up next time.

Julie P said...

I read this book a few years ago and remember thinking it was just ehhhh.....

Jo-Jo said...

Laura: This is such a quick read that you could probably read it in one sitting.

Kathy: I thought the same thing about the quotation marks. Maynard did the same thing with Labor Day and it takes me a bit to adjust to that style also.

Julie: I think I appreciated the book and the writing style after I read more about the author and what she was going through when she wrote this book.

Ti said...

I just finished a book where quotation marks were not used either. Unlike you though, I didn't even notice it until several days into it. Not sure what that says about me as a careful reading ;)

Ti said...

...or a careful typist. Sorry for the typos in the previous message.

Jo-Jo said...

Ti: And now I'm reading The Handmaid's Tale and a lot of that doesn't quotations either. Interesting how within such a short period of time I would read more than 1 book with this similarity.

Amy said...

What a wonderful review. I was happy to see you had reviewed this book because it's one I have meant to read for a long time nd unfortunately forget to. But something about the cover or the title or the blurb, something pulls me towards this book.

Your enjoyment of it and your wonderful review have influenced me to move it was up on my tbr list!

Thank you!
~ Amy

Veens said...

I would find it difficult to read a book that doesn't has quotes! I like the story line and I am sure I will give this one a try...

Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This book was good, but so depressing.

Jo-Jo said...

Amy: I'm glad you liked the review and I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

Veens: It does take a bit to get used to the dialogue but it definitely leaves more to the imagination.

Bibliophile: I agree that it was a depressing story in general but it did have a happy outcome so that helped to make up for it in my mind.

stacybuckeye said...

I read this years ago and really liked it. Thanks for reminding me why!

gautami tripathy said...

Sounds really good!

Here is my Book Review Wednesday post!