Coming of age, Family dynamics, Fiction, Finding Your Self, Social Commentary

#497 Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

Ellen Foster by Kaye GibbonsEllen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

Ellen used to think up ways to kill her daddy, but in the end, she didn’t have to do it. He pretty much killed himself. He didn’t use a gun or a rope, but hard-living got the best of him and he ended up dead, holed up in his own house for who knows how long. Ellen was gone by then; she had left.

She had already decided living with her daddy wasn’t a good life. Her mama had taken a bunch of pills and her daddy wouldn’t let her call an ambulance or anything so her mother died. Ellen has found herself a new family, where she gets enough to eat, has her own room, and can go riding on a pony, but it wasn’t the first house she tried.

When Ellen still lived with her daddy she often escaped from him to her friend Starletta’s house. Starletta is not white like Ellen and lives in a small shack. There is no running water, but Starletta’s family is kind to Ellen. They know she doesn’t have the best life and they welcome her to stay as much as she wants to, but Ellen has not yet learned to trust people who aren’t the same race as her.

First, Ellen tries her aunt, but her aunt tells her she cannot stay but for the weekend. Then the school intervenes and she stays with the art teacher, who is a good person, but the court steps in and Ellen is sent to live with her maternal grandmother. Her grandmother is not kind to her. She makes her work in the fields picking cotton and always looks down on her because of who her father is. The woman never has a kind remark for Ellen, but Ellen takes care of her despite that. It turns out that her grandmother was actually quite sick and does die. After that Ellen goes to live with another aunt, who tolerates her for a while, but the situation doesn’t work out because her aunt only has eyes for her daughter and not for Ellen.

Ellen spies a woman in church who has lots of different children. She asks about her and determines that she will be her new mama.

What I liked

Poor Ellen has a rough life. I liked that she learned to get above it though. She didn’t let the fact that her parents were dead really hold her back. She didn’t let the fact that her grandmother was mean as a snake to her hold her back. She went on with life. She’s resilient in a way that many people aren’t. You really have to admire someone like Ellen. She takes her own life into her hands and just goes on about her business.

I also really liked that Ellen learned to realize that Starletta was a person just the same as her. In the beginning of the story, Ellen thought she was going to get some kind of germs from Starletta because her skin was a different color. Ellen learns that this is not the case and Starletta is just like her. This is a grand realization for someone so young. Small children often do not care about race, but they can be taught through action and word to be prejudiced by the time they’re several years old. This is what happened to Ellen. She didn’t do this herself, but was taught, probably not outright, but she was taught to distrust anyone who wasn’t the same race as herself. I’m glad that she was able to reprogram herself and be more trusting.

What I didn’t like

I was watching Call the Midwife last night(it’s a British show based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth and her time as a midwife in London). I like the show; it deals with a lot of issues of the day and also issues that have always existed. The episode last night was about four neglected children. Their mother would go off and just leave them for a day or two at a time, when the youngest was a baby. They were filthy and hungry. They had nobody there for them. The oldest boy, who had to be only seven or eight, took care of them himself or tried to. It was just about the saddest thing.

I don’t understand why or how people could do anything like that. I don’t understand what’s in certain people to treat a child in such a manner. I cannot imagine what went through Ellen’s father’s head in order for him to treat her so. If Ellen had not left when she did, things would have been very bad for her. I just can’t comprehend the fact that someone could be so terrible to their own children.

It almost makes me want to say that some people just don’t deserve children, but how are you supposed to know that a person is like that before they actually have a child? It’s a question for the ages. It’s just something we have to try to clean up as a society because we can’t tell who is and who isn’t going to take care of their children before they have them. It’s up to us to pick up those pieces after a person like Ellen’s father rolls through the world.


I think in a twisted way, this is a really good book for foster children to read. It shows them that they can be somebody and they don’t have to suffer.

Weigh in

If you were in the same situation as Ellen had been in, would you leave your home?

Do you believe that Ellen being appreciated and cared for made her more able to appreciate Starletta?

abusing children, bad home life, books about foster children, ellen, Ellen Foster, Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, foster care, foster children, Kaye Gibbons, mean grandmother, neglecting children, starletta
Coming of age, Family dynamics, Fiction, Finding Your Self, Gibbons-Kaye, Social Commentary


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