Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

A coming of age novel, Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons, tells the story of a young girl growing up in the South, searching for a sense of family, love, and belonging. A novel that touches on coping with death and rejections.

Ellen Foster, the narrator, tells the readers about her tragic past after her mother commits suicide. She stays with her father until she could not take his abuses anymore. She writes “When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy.” She blames her dad for her mom’s death because of the way he treats her. After leaving home, Ellen moves from one house to another house, until she finds the perfect place where she feels loved, accepted, and comfort.

Ellen goes to live with family members: her grandmother and her aunts.  Her grandmother blames her for the death of her mother and puts her to work as a field hand on a cotton plantation. And her aunt, Nadine, kicks her out of her house because she does not like Ellen’s behavior. Then, her aunt Betsy only wants her to come by on weekends but not live with her. However, Ellen assumes that she can live there permanently.

Then, Ellen moves in with her teacher Julia, and she notices her loving relationship with her husband. Her husband loves to garden, clean, and cook. Comparing to Ellen’s father who spends his time drinking and playing cards game with his friends. Julia has been the most supportive person and a role model in Ellen’s life; she encourages her interests in painting. But, Ellen has to leave Julia’s home because of her father.

Ellen finds comfort being with her best friend, Starletta, who is black, and she has been very supportive of her during those tough times. Growing up in the South, Ellen has the same racial prejudices toward blacks. When she goes to Starletta’s house, she cannot see herself drinking in the same cup, and waits until she gets home to use the bathroom. She even calls Starletta house a shack.
She looks down at her friend who lives in a loving and stable home, with her father and mother, which what Ellen desperately wants.

Ellen describes to us how she finally knocks on the door of the foster mom at her church, her last hope because she has no other options and nowhere else to go. She even offers her the money she saves in exchange for lodging and food but she refuses to take it.  Her foster mom makes the call to the county for Ellen to officially lives with her. Her new mama is loving and caring. And Ellen wants to share her happiness with her best friend, Starletta and invites her for a sleepover.

Ellen finally finds contentment at her foster mom’s home. Fully grown, she also acknowledges her racial prejudices and realizes that she has more in common with Starletta than differences. As she lays next to Starletta napping, she becomes accepting of her friend and understands the challenges that she too has to endure living in the South.



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