"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.
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.
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