In Ellen Foster, the title character is an 11-year-old orphan who refers to herself as “old Ellen,” an appellation that is disturbingly apt. Ellen is an old woman in a child’s body; her frail, unhappy mother dies, her abusive father alternately neglects her and makes advances on her, and she is shuttled from one uncaring relative’s home to another before she finally takes matters into her own hands and finds herself a place to belong.
My take: 3 looks
Ellen Foster is a very likable character, and one who is quite spirited. I enjoyed the writing style of using the voice of a young girl, complete with incorrect word usage (romantic fever vs. rheumatic fever) and incorrect grammar. It felt very authentic.
The transition between past and present was a little confusing for me at first, but once I found the rhythm, I was able to settle into it. It proved to be another nice way to tell the story, like Ellen was reflecting on her past.
Ellen’s struggle with the various abuses of the adults around her was handled well. Gibbons was able to convey the seriousness of the situations without making the reader cringe. The wit and wisdom in how young Ellen responds to the dangers around her was a welcome respite for me, as opposed to the more raw “Bastard Out of Carolina” by Dorothy Allison. To me, this made the book much more YA-friendly.
Ellen’s friendship with Starletta, a black student at her school, was an important theme, but I didn’t see it quite as central and pivotal as was apparent at the end of the book. I found it an odd way to end this story, since there were so many other relationships that seemed to be more important.
Overall, this was an easy book to read. It is very short, at less than 150 pages, and Ellen’s outlook is hopeful throughout her troubles. I would recommend.