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Literature & Fiction

Rating: 4.0 / 5.0 (337 votes)

Released: 1990-05-01

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Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons


“When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure out this or that way and run it down through my head until it got easy.” So begins the tale of Ellen Foster, the brave and engaging heroine of Kay Gibbons's first novel, which won the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Institute of Arts and Letters. Wise, funny, affectionate, and true, Ellen Foster is, as Walker Percy called it, “The real thing. Which is to say, a lovely, sometimes heartwrenching novel. . . . [Ellen Foster] is as much a part of the backwoods South as a Faulkner character—and a good deal more endearing.”

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Editorial Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, October 1997: Kaye Gibbons is a writer who brings a short story sensibility to her novels. Rather than take advantage of the novel's longer form to paint her visions in broad, sweeping strokes, Gibbons prefers to concentrate on just one corner of the canvas and only a few colors to produce her small masterpieces. In Gibbons's case, her canvas is the American South and her colors are all the shades of gray.

In Ellen Foster, the title character is an 11-year-old orphan who refers to herself as “old Ellen,” an appellation that is disturbingly apt. Ellen is an old woman in a child's body; her frail, unhappy mother dies, her abusive father alternately neglects her and makes advances on her, and she is shuttled from one uncaring relative's home to another before she finally takes matters into her own hands and finds herself a place to belong. There is something almost Dickensian about Ellen's tribulations; like Oliver Twist, David Copperfield or a host of other literary child heroes, Ellen is at the mercy of predatory adults, with only her own wit and courage–and the occasional kindness of others–to help her through. That she does, in fact, survive her childhood and even rise above it is the book's bittersweet victory.

Book Details

Author: Kaye Gibbons Publisher: Vintage Binding: Paperback Language: English Pages: 144

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