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on June 14, 2000
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 !
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on October 17, 2001
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.
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on June 27, 2003
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.
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on May 11, 2001
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 naïve^×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 naïve 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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on August 3, 2002
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.
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on June 21, 2000
When I first bought this novel, I did not know it was an Oprah pick. I probably would not have bought it if I had known, since I'm not too crazy about the books she chooses. I bought this book because I liked the movie with the same name.
I have never read a book that was entirely monologue. It is entirely from the viewpoint of this little girl and the miseries she suffered at the hands of her mean old daddy. She referred to herself as "old Ellen", and I guess she was, mentally, pretty old for her young age.
There were no quotation marks and dialogue between characters as in all other books I've read, yet it held a sort of charm to me. The author certainly knows how a little girl feels in a situation like Ellen's, and I'm wondering if maybe the author IS Ellen. Of course, I dont' know if this is based on fact, but it sure could be.
She was totally disregarded by almost everyone she was around, with the exception of her poor, sick mother who died. Her daddy was an alcoholic and left her for days on end. If it were not for Ellen's little black friend, she would have had no friends.
She keeps talking about her new mama and how wonderful the woman is, and then goes back in time when things were completely different. Her new mama goes out and buys more food when they run out. Ellen has a pretty room, and she's just in awe of it. She doesn't even care about going out to play right away, just so she can lay around and love her bedroom. In the past, she shared a bed with her mama, and barely had enough to eat because her daddy was too lazy to work. He just drank and drank until he passed out near the toilet, and Ellen would have to go tell him to get himself out of the bathroom because there were other people who needed to go to the bathroom. She was just wonderful, in my opinion, telling the old geezer just where to get off.
I'm happy with the way the book progresses, interweaving the past with the present, and hopefully will be able to see more books by this talented author.
I highly recommend this book to everyone, and urge people to buy their copy from if they haven't already read it.
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on June 27, 2011
Sometimes, too rarely, you find a book that just takes your breath away. One that makes all other books seem as if they aren't books at all, but practice runs. Ellen Foster was that kind of book for me.

Ellen Foster is about a young girl in an abusive home. Her mother overdoses, her alcoholic father alternately takes advantage of her or neglects her completely and she soon becomes a throw-away, wandering from one uncaring relative to another.

This story is one that hit me like a load of concrete. Told in the young main character's point of view, it was startlingly realistic and painful and haunting. There was something so uncomfortable about reading the story that I often had to put the book aside to wipe my tears away. Watching Ellen's life unfold is like watching a gruesome car accident--you can't look away no matter how bad it is. You can't stop reading although you know the next paragraph will bring you certain heartbreak. And yet, for all that, it is still a story of hope.

This is a book you don't read so much as experience. In my opinion, Gibbons is one of the top 3 female writers alive today (the others being Jan Karon and Melinda Haynes). All of her books have moved me so deeply but this one was my favorite, if such a word can be applied to this experience. Her prose is so beautiful that it is almost poetic. She takes words and makes them do things I've never seen from other authors. This story is told from the point of view of the young Ellen so it is hard to follow and read but that makes the story so much more powerful and painful.
If you've never
read Kaye Gibbons before, treat yourself to a concert performed by a maestro.
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on April 20, 2000
I started this book with great expectations, and Mrs. Gibbons delivered quite well. Some parts were confusing, but soon I grew accustomed to the unique voice of the tough child-woman, Ellen. She had a beautiful name, but an ugly life. Her father killed her mother emotionally. Ellen cleverly avoided him, but was inevitably bounced from uncaring relative to uncaring relative. In some ways, these family members were crueler than her dad. Despite her trials, the brave girl(really more of an old woman than a child) never gave up the search for love. She found it in unconventional but kind people like a black friend named Starletta, a hippie couple, and finally a foster family. She kept her grit and was more concerned about others than herself. Many of the events are disturbing, but you survive them as Ellen did: through hope and black humor. Overall, the book is uplifting. I reccomend it to almost anyone.
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on October 11, 2001
There is so much written in this short novel. It's a story of a young 5th grade girl that experiences absolutly too much abuse and ridicule in her life. The book, Ellen Foster, portrays a girl that is a survivor of neglect, alcoholism, and poverty. Ellen is a very strong child that witnesses racism and is inadvertantly a victim of the same. She doesn't succomb to selfpity, she is a tough cookie that focuses on her "new mama" and "foster" family.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a story told by Ellen using the language of an 11 year old telling her sad life story as she understands it.
I do recommend this book to all of my friends, it actually reminds me a lot of "White Oleander", another book that I thoroughly enjoyed.
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on January 31, 2000
Kaye Gibbons's Ellen Foster is a story of perseverance in the face of pain. Ellen is a girl who must endure terrible hardships through her young life, yet still remains brave, strong, and brash. A true monument to the human spirit, Ellen is a bright character who even with her awful circumstances is aware of the suffrage of others. From the destruction and pain brought by her drunken father and the deaths of those close to her, Ellen brings an unshakable enthusiasm and vitality, when many would lose the desire to endure. What begins as a gut-wrenching tale of a child's pain drives forth into a world of compassion, hope, and humor!
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