Thursday, September 3, 2009

#BookReview: Ellen Foster - Kaye Gibbons

Ellen Foster has not had an easy life, but boy does she have spunk! In the spirit of Blaze James, from Finding Me, Kaye Gibbons brings us Ellen Foster, an 11 year old who has been shifted around from home to home.

After watching her mother's abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father for years, and her ultimate suicide by overdose, Ellen first tries to maintain a decent home life. When her father begins to make advances towards her, she leaves for her maternal aunt's house, only to find that while her aunt doesn't mind a weekend visit, she has no intention of allowing her to stay there permanently. When her teacher sees bruises on Ellen, the school steps in and she's sent to live with her art teacher in what is surely one of the happiest times in her short life.

Shortly after, Ellen's father dies and her maternal grandmother petitions the court for custody. In a seeming effort to punish Ellen for both her mother's and father's faults, Ellen is made to work in the cotton fields with the "coloreds". In working with them Ellen learns quite a few family secrets. Following the death of her grandmother Ellen is sent, once more, to a new home, that of another aunt and cousin. Finding nothing that resembles love in that home, she sets out to find herself a new home with the Foster family.

Though the author could have made the title character a weak child, she has not. Ellen is a child that's grown up too quickly and has the mouth to prove it. Make no mistake, she sasses a few adults, but she makes valid points. Daring to befriend a "colored" girl in the South during the 70s is brave on her part and it's with Starletta's family that she seeks refuge repeatedly and through them, learns what a family should look like. Too often authors bring in the maternal black woman to save the poor white child. I'm happy that Kaye Gibbons didn't play that card in this novel. Instead, she uses the character of Starletta to teach Ellen that her skin color doesn't make her different at all and that real families come in all shades.
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