Jun 9, 2009

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons (Paperback)

When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. ~ page 1

You’ve heard the saying “Good things come in small packages“? This is especially true in Kaye Gibbons’ novel, ELLEN FOSTER. With that first sentence, she grabs you and propels you into the world of 11 year-old Ellen, a neglected, abused child with an unusually old soul.

Everything about this little book is bold: the writing, the storyline and the characters, but especially the writing. Yet it also has a simplicity about it. The story is told by Ellen and written just as a child would tell it - as she thinks it. There’s no punctuation or proper grammar, just thoughts flowing out of her head, in her own words.

It’s my impression that Ellen lives somewhere in the South, circa the late 60’s, early 70’s, although it’s never directly stated. When the story begins she’s telling what her life used to be like and how it’s changed over a period of about a year. A year in which her mother dies, she’s left to fend off her abusive, alcoholic father and his friends until she is passed around from one family member to another, not feeling wanted anywhere. All she has ever wanted is to be a part of a normal family.

Like I mentioned before, this is a small book, only 125 pages, but I promise it’ll stick with you long after you’ve finished reading it. ELLEN FOSTER is Kaye Gibbon’s first out of eight novels. I was surprised when I read several reviews from readers who didn’t care for it, either because of the disturbing content or simply because of the way Gibbons used Ellen’s own way of speaking to tell the story. Ironically, that's what impressed me about the book. Without all the punctuation and grammar, it may be hard for some to read or understand until you get used to the style. One reviewer said it was the southern tone of it that made it hard for her to understand. That wasn’t the case at all for me. I don’t know if it’s because I live in the south, but I doubt it. In my opinion, it’s not so much a southern slang as it is a child saying it. However, maybe it’s a mixture of the two.

I’m getting the impression that this is a ‘writer’s book’. By that I mean, in reading reviews, it seems that writers love this book. I first became acquainted with ELLEN FOSTER on Scobberlotch's (Karen Harrington) blog. And later by Jayne Pupek and a few others while cruising Goodreads. I think they must appreciate the unique writing style as well as the dark storyline. As you know, both Karen and Jayne have their own experiences in writing successful books with disturbing content. I also think it’s one of those books that you either love or you don‘t.

I have the sequel, THE LIFE ALL AROUND ME BY ELLEN FOSTER and will be reading it this summer. On another note, Jo-Jo from Jo-Jo Loves To Read, posted a fantastic review of another Kaye Gibbons novel last month called CHARMS FOR THE EASY LIFE. That novel was made into a TV movie in 2002 starring Gena Rowlands and Mimi Rogers. You can read Jo-Jo's review here. Have you read ELLEN FOSTER or any of her other books? If so, I would love for you to share your thoughts.

Author: Kaye Gibbons
Originally published by Algonquin Books, January 1987
Vintage Paperback - 1990
Pages: 125
Rating: 4 our of 5 stars


  1. I'm really intrigued after that review. It's going on my wish list.

  2. Yay! I'm so glad you loved this book as much as I did. I just finished her book A Virtuous Woman and I think you'd love it, too. I like what you said about it being a writer's book and I'm going to give that some thought. I just re-read To Kill A Mockingbird and it, too, has definite southern dialogue and style much like ELLEN. Didn't hurt that book much. :)

  3. The book sounds good from your review but I have such a hard time with books that have no proper punctuation.

  4. I just found your blog on BookBlibs and had to check this post out. I read Ellen Foster a while ago, you can see my (somewhat short) review of it here:


    I am looking forward to have a look around your blog.

  5. I read this years ago, when it came out. I posted a review of Sights Unseen by Gibbons a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it.

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