The author, Kay Gibbons, lives in Raleigh North Carolina, and won an award for this story which was her first novel. The authors tone was sad, but also humorous. The main character will make you laugh and cry at the same time. The author does not state where the story took place, but due to the dialect it must have been somewhere in the Deep South. The time era was probably in the fifties or sixties because the author describes people working in the fields picking cotton.
Ellen Foster is a small child of eleven years old. Ellen was abused by her father physically and mentally. Ellen’s mother was always sick, and in and out of the hospital. This little girl was unable to enjoy growing up because she was always worried about her mother, and what her father was going to do next. The members of her family appear to be consumed in their own lives, and not willing to open their hearts to this little girl.
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One evening Ellen’s mother took a whole bottle of pills. Ellen begged her father to get help, but he insisted her mother would be fine and just needed to sleep it off. He threatened Ellen by telling her he would kill her if she went for help. Ellen took her mother to the bedroom and laid down beside her while she slept. Her mother quit breathing, but Ellen stayed beside her until someone took her away.
After the death of Ellen’s mother she lived alone with her father who was a drunk. Ellen who is only a small child figures out how to pay bills, buy food, and purchase clothing. There were many times Ellen went to school with bruises on her, but when asked about them she would deny where they came from, and blame them on herself. Ellen’s father would often come home drunk and confused. He would call Ellen by her mother’s name, and sexually abuse her. One will find their heart reaching out to this little girl who had her childhood taken away from her at such a young age.
There were times Ellen’s father would come home drunk, and pass out in the front yard, or in the bathroom throwing up. Ellen would try to get him up thinking to herself, if only he would drown in his own vomit. The closest this child came to knowing a real family was when she would visit her friend who lived down the street. This friend was younger than Ellen, and her name was Starletta.
Ellen’s friend and her family were black, and lived very poorly. Although this family was poor, Ellen was able to see an example of how a caring family acts toward one another. When things got really bad at home, Ellen would run to their house for comfort and food. Starletta’s family always welcomed Ellen into their home.
There were times Ellen would be at home by herself, and her father would come home very late. She would often think of ways her father might die. Ellen said in one of her humorous tones “I wonder if he has not drove off in the ditch somewhere and froze to death. Nobody would be out on Christmas to find him before he got blue and solid.”
Finally, someone at school took an interest in Ellen, and alerted the authorities about the abuse this little girl was going through. After this Ellen went to live with one of her teachers who took very good care of her. However this did not last long, and she is sent to live with her mother’s mother. Ellen’s grandmother despised her father, and would often communicate this to her. She would tell Ellen that she looked and acted just like her daddy. The grandmother would often tell Ellen, “You have evil eyes just like your father.” Ellen would try to stay out of her way as much as possible to keep her grandmother from looking at her eyes.
It wasn’t long after moving in with her grandmother that she was sent to work in the fields with the hired help picking cotton. It was there Ellen met a black woman who would often tell her about how sweet her mother was. She would also tell Ellen how much she was like her mother, and that she resembled her a lot. This woman would help Ellen get through the day picking cotton in the fields when this little girl should have been having fun with other children.
Later on Ellen’s grandmother got sick, and it is Ellen who takes very good care of her. This little girl who thought the death of her mother was her fought was determined not to be blamed for another death. Ellen talk to God, and told him she would take really good care of her grandmother so that maybe she would be forgiven for her mother’s death. Her grandmother does finally pass away, and Ellen makes sure her grandmother is fixed up in a way that everyone will be proud. Ellen places flowers around her grandmother on the bed, and places a hat on her head as though she is going somewhere. She is determined not to take the blame for another death.
After the funeral Ellen goes to live with her mother’s sister Nadine and Cousin Dora. When Ellen is packing her clothes she is thinking to herself this will only be temporary, and will pretend she is living in a hotel. She will stay there until she finds a place where someone will love her. Ellen decided she would stay out of her Aunt Nadine and cousin’s way. Ellen spent a lot of time to herself. One evening on Christmas Eve Ellen got into a word fight with her cousin Dora, and Aunt Nadine.
During this ordeal Ellen’s Aunt tells her how ungrateful she is, and that she should be beaten. As her Aunt came toward her Ellen told her not to touch her or she would kill her. In Ellen’s words, “I said it so low and strong as my Daddy said it to me”. Ellen states “I said it with my eyes so evil she would think about how I had been found in a house with two dead women, and she might see herself just for a second as number three.” For the first time Ellen had actually defended herself, and her aunt told her to get out, and find her evil self a hole to crawl in. Ellen did leave to find yet another home to live, but this time it is very different.
One will find their self holding on to every word. The way this child of eleven keeps her spunk and humor is amazing. Through all this child has endured she continues to believe in herself, and that she will find someone to love her. This book will make you laugh and cry at the same time. Anyone who reads this book will find themselves loving and admiring Ellen Foster.
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