Monday, 28 February 2011

Ellen Foster (Kaye Gibbons)

Ellen Foster is yet another book from my loot a couple of weeks ago - I'm slowly working my way through the pile and enjoying it immensely! I had read one other VMC by the author already, Sights unseen, a book about madness and electro-shock therapy, but it hadn't stayed with me so I wasn't sure what to expect from Ellen Foster.

Told from the perspective of Ellen, a ten year old, this is a wonderful depiction of a girl dealing with a gruelling family life and eventually finding a home. It's a tale of survival - Ellen's mother and then father die, but he is such a non-father that it is almost a relief when that happens. Poverty, abuse, and being shuttled around between relatives are all things that Ellen has to contend with.

Another interesting sub-plot to the book is Ellen's friendship with a negro girl Starletta; the book is set just as segregation is coming to an end, which is why it is possible for the two to be friends. However, Ellen's unbringing makes it initially very difficult for her to relax in Starletta's company - for example, when she is forced to stay over at Starletta's house, she sleeps on top of the bed, with her clothes on, so that she can't actually have been considered to have slept there.

I remember now that I picked this out particularly because Ellen was described in one blurb as a Southern Holden Caulfield [Catcher in the Rye] - I'm not sure this is a very accurate or fair description as although Ellen certainly tells things like they are, in an immediate first person style, she has far more assurance than Caulfield and very real difficult circumstances to contend with. There isn't any of the teenage angst that there is in the Catcher in the Rye.

This seems to be an extremely popular book with bookclubs, especially in the US. It's only been published once by Virago with a modern green cover, but there are numerous other editions.


  1. This is on one of my challenge lists for this year. I'm having a really difficult time getting hold of a copy though, as i'm on a year long book buying ban, so the library is really my only resource! Hope I do, though as it sounds good!

  2. I just read this and didn't really enjoy it - I found it unconvincing and cliched, which was unfortunate, as I had heard such great things. It's definitely held in high esteem in the US and taught in schools, but I just didn't get it. I find Kaye Gibbons' writing a little aimless.