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Tomato Girl

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  1,001 Ratings  ·  243 Reviews
For eleven-year-old Ellie Sanders, her father has always been the rock that she could cling to when her mother's emotional troubles became too frightening. But when he comes under the thrall of the pretty teenager who raises vegetables and tomatoes for sale at the general store that he runs, Ellie sees her security slowly slipping away. Now she must be witness and warden t ...more
Hardcover, 298 pages
Published August 26th 2008 by Algonquin Books (first published 2008)
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Lolly K Dandeneau
Aug 22, 2008 Lolly K Dandeneau rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
*****UPDATE Where was I when Jayne died in 2010? I just found out and feel really sad. She was such a wonderful writer, and even replied to me kindly. I hadn't realized, I was searching to see if she had written anything new. I am really sad. This has been a throw away day.

Wow, I did not expect this story to turn into what it did. I found it gruesome and tender. I longed to climb into the book and rescue Ellie, to pull her out of the derangement surrounding her mother and away from the selfishne
GUD Magazine
Tomato Girl is a fairly standard coming-of-age story, occasionally daring in some aspects, but, on the whole, rather mediocre. It covers territory that many such stories do -- parental sex and infidelity, insanity, viewpoint-character bad behavior -- but delves into them more deeply and disturbingly than a lot of adult novels about preteen girls would dare or care to, usually without losing its sense of realism.

But it's that 'usually' that makes all the difference; Tomato Girl is a thoroughly a
Sep 29, 2008 Zinta rated it it was amazing
“I’m the girl they found standing on the table. The girl who traced the cracks in the wall with her mother’s blood.”

How we hope little Ellie will come through the dark places of her 11 years of life whole again, as whole as one might expect from the insanity she has survived. We want to believe. Throughout the entire novel, “Tomato Girl,” author Jayne Pupek’s first, we have been holding our breath with that hope. A former social worker, Pupek has, after all, described this little girl and the wr
Alice Osborn
Jul 25, 2008 Alice Osborn rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who likes a good yarn
Jayne Pupek's "Tomato Girl" was a book I couldn't put down. Well-paced, funny, and authentic with vulnerable and memorable characters, Pupek throws the proverbial rocks at her protagonist, 11-year-old Ellie Sanders throughout the book -- Ellie's troubles never seem to relent, except when she lets them go at the end. Beginning in a circular fashion with her mentally ill mother("a lily caught in a hurricane was how Daddy described Mama. If we calmed the winds around her, she would be fine") having ...more
Jun 10, 2008 Ann rated it it was amazing
The voice that greets me in Tomato Girl is so rich and authentic that I am not surprised to find that the author is a native of Virginia. Jayne Pupek is a poet (Forms of Intercession) and author, whose writing has appeared in many literary journals. My first thought upon finishing her debut novel was, "How can I ever read another book again?" My second thought: "How can I write a review of this book? What words could I put on paper that would come close to expressing the emotional impact that re ...more
Feb 25, 2008 Jayne rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who enjoy Carson McCullers and Kaye Gibbons
COS Productions has made a video/book trailer for Tomato Girl. Please take a look on my GoodReads Profile or go to YouTube:



Disclaimer: I'm partial to this book because I wrote it.

People who enjoy stories in the Southern Gothic tradition will likely enjoy "Tomato Girl." The book will be released later this month, but is available now for pre-order at Amazon, B&N, and Powells. Many thanks to those of you who have already added it to your 't
Aug 21, 2008 Staci rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all my friends on GoodReads
just picked this up from my local library, really looking forward to this read!

O.K. I sat outside all afternoon and read this book. I couldn't stop!! But Jayne, I'm mad!! Oh, how could you make Ellie's world so horrible!!? There are so few good people in Ellie's life. You made me totally hate Rupert! I wanted to knock his lights out....and Tess...omg...I don't want to go there. No wonder Ellie's mom was CRAZY!! I heard Ellie in my head, her voice comes out strong and clear. You can't help but lo
Aug 05, 2008 Diane rated it it was amazing
Shelves: a-favorite-read
I have been avoiding writing a review about the book Tomato Girl, by Jayne Pupek, because that would mean it was time for me to move on to something else. I did not want to move on. I love loved loved this book! I read it once (in one day), but then the following day I went back and placed sticky notes on at least 10 pages, so that I could reread some of the haunting passages again, and keep them for the future.

Tomato Girl is about Ellie Sanders, an 11-year old girl growing up in a dysfunctional
Aug 15, 2008 Kirsten rated it it was amazing
Jayne Pupek can write! Tomato Girl is a beautiful novel related by an eleven-year old narrator, Ellie, whom I loved from the moment she admitted "I can't tell them about Mama's moods, or how she keeps Baby Tom in a jar." I was captivated by her story, and so curious to learn it that I had trouble setting the novel down.

Though young, Ellie is a perceptive narrator, and I enjoyed meeting the adults in the book through her eyes. I saw how and why she adored her father, though his actions were irres
Dec 10, 2008 Craig rated it really liked it
Wow! This is some dark, dark stuff. When I first picked up the book, judging (of course) by the cover and the jacket blurb, I think I was expecting a light, semi-comedic, Joshlyn Jackson type, small rural town novel.

This. is. not. that. book.

Poor Ellie, is dealing with an unstable mother (trying to keep her out of an instituion), manipulating, yet loving father(trying to keep him out of jail) who's diddling an abused teenager (with daddy issues), all the while trying to keep her home in order, n
Jul 08, 2008 Jessie rated it it was amazing
There is so much to say about this book but I'll start with DROP EVERYTHING YOU ARE DOING RIGHT NOW AND GO READ THIS BOOK! This book is sad, endearing, emotional, and the characters are ones that you will grow attached to quickly and easily.

11 year old Ellie has so much to deal with, her mama who keeps a dead baby in a jar, her daddy who loves the tomato girl, and all of the secrets she has to keep in order to keep the peace at home and keep up appearances to the people who know her outside her
Oct 15, 2008 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Jayne Pupek is a wonderfully descriptive writer. I'd read anything else she wrote. This was such a good book, hard really to describe how the story makes you feel, it's so intense. I think what struck me the most, besides how very, very accurate her portrayal of an abused little girl feelings were, was that her characters were so real, so human. She captured so perfectly what it's like for a child, to so desperately love someone, even when they're making her suffer so much. And the bargaining wi ...more
Sep 19, 2008 Irene rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: My Book Group
Recommended to Irene by: Kirkus Reviews
I did not want this book to end! Jayne Pupek is a fantastic writer, and I look forward to reading more of her books (you are writing more books, Jayne).

Some may say that this is a typical "coming of age" book. I disagree. What Ellie Sanders had to deal with on a day-to-day basis is a far cry from what most girls her age should experience. I loved the characters in this book, and wish it was at least 200 pages longer.

Jayne's first debut work of fiction stands right up there with "Fried Green Toma
Nov 13, 2009 Jane rated it it was ok
Shelves: southern-lit
Tomato Girl has all the elements of a good novel: a mentally ill mother, a tempted father and a little girl trying to hold everything together as her world is shattered, saved only by a wise old black woman. But first-time novelist Jayne Pupek fails to build an adequate story, randomly splashing out cardboard characters in clichéd situations and failing to provide even the most rudimentary conclusion. Other novelists – Kaye Gibbons, Jill McCorkle, Elizabeth Berg – have visited this basic premise ...more
Aug 26, 2008 Corky rated it it was amazing
I actually finished this about 2 weeks ago but have not been able to make my notes until now.

This is an excellant first novel - well written, well developed, very dysfunctional characters and a story line that is reminiscent of an Oprah book!

The Tomato Girl is Ellie Sanders' coming of age story. Suffering tragedy after tragedy, Ellie survives with the aplomb and dignity of an adult far wiser than her years. Ellie's story is what makes this an astonishing and heart warming read.
Aug 24, 2008 Angela rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to know about children in care and how some of them got there.
Recommended to Angela by: Found on goodreads
I enjoyed this book for many reasons. The writing is beautiful. The main character, Ellie, is stunningly real. She speaks in the voice of every child who has tried to keep secrets about mental illness in the family. The author has a perfect grasp of the mind of a child who has to deal with trying to keep herself and her parent alive and is failing. This was a painful and important book to read. I look forward to hearing more from this author. Bravo for an excellent first book!
Sep 25, 2008 Kelly rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Kelly by: Jayne Pupek
I've been holding off on my review of this book, but Wow! I'm not quite sure what to say without giving plot away, but this is a touching yet riveting story about a young girl and her family. This book contains emotion, mental illness, sadness, and finally acceptance. I would recommend Jayne Pupek's novel to anyone who desires an excellent read! Way to go Jayne, I loved it!!
Shelby *trains flying monkeys*
Jul 16, 2009 Shelby *trains flying monkeys* rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2009
I really cared about Ellie (the child in this book) She had so much to deal with and she still was a good kid. She handled mental illness, her dad cheating in the same house as her mom and death of a beloved pet with grace. Good southern book.
melanie (lit*chick)
Jul 23, 2008 melanie (lit*chick) rated it it was amazing
Recommended to melanie (lit*chick) by: Jayne Pupek
Clean prose, vivid and lovely writing. I was swept along in young Ellie's story, despite all of her hardships there were glimmers of hope. I couldn't put it down until I knew the end. A tender and rewarding read.

Bravo, Jayne!!
Jul 01, 2008 Heather rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who likes Southern fiction or well-told stories
Recommended to Heather by: Library Journal
Shelves: 2008-books
This was a wonderful book! The story is compelling and beautifully written.
Arlene Ang
Nov 17, 2008 Arlene Ang rated it it was amazing
OH MY. I just love this book — the intensity, the storyline, the characters, the perceptive language. I'll kill for a sequel though!
Nov 12, 2008 Darlene rated it it was amazing
Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek is another of my favorite books this year. It is set in the South in the 60's and the main focus of the story is eleven year old Ellie who is living a life most of us can't even imagine. Her mother Julia is mentally ill and Ellie is forced to grow up and be an adult far too soon in her life. Ellie has spent her young life always watching her mama to make sure nobody else notices the strange things she does or happens to see her in one of her spells. Ellie is a pro at m ...more
Aug 17, 2008 Tracy rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: would be great for book clubs, many discussion topics
Shelves: fiction
I loved the writing in this novel. The voice was authentic and all the characters came to life for me, especially Ellie who I wanted to rescue and her mother who I wanted to bring to the doctor and get her some medication! And I just wanted to shake Rupert by the shoulders and ask him "What are you thinking?". I liked that the author tackled tough subjects that were not to be spoken of during the time setting of the novel, like mental illness (bi-polar), adultery, incest, racism. I applaud her f ...more
Oct 17, 2008 Jen rated it really liked it
Shelves: southern-lit
I actually finished this book over a week ago, and I haven't reviewed it because I'm having a hard time figuring out what I want to say. It's heart-wrenching, there's no doubt about that. The main character is a pre-teen girl named Ellie in Virginia or North Carolina, I think during the 1960s. She's in a terrible situation and she's just trying to make the best of it. Her mom is utterly batshit crazy. As in, she should be institutionalized, but she's not. Her dad has tried to take care of both o ...more
Lisa Vegan
Aug 21, 2008 Lisa Vegan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all those who enjoy novels with painful subject matter and child protagonists
Recommended to Lisa by: Virginia Messina
This is a wonderful novel. It’s reminiscent of other Southern coming of age novels such as Bastard Out of Carolina, but it’s definitely original. The writing was excellent and there are many beautifully written passages, and the tale is so vivid that as I read I was easily wrapped up in Ellie’s life.

This is in the end a hopeful story, but it’s a very emotionally wrenching book to read. Abandonment is a central theme. Even though the protagonist is eleven, this book is very dark and I would never
Becky Everhart
Jul 07, 2008 Becky Everhart rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: high school classroooms
There is a certain grace in the face of hardship factor that really makes me root for Southern fiction protagonists. This book made me ache for young Ellie, knowing that everyone around her would fail to help her through life’s struggles in the end, that she would have to grow to take care of herself in a different way than anyone else could. In that way, this book reminded me very much of the books Ellen Foster and Make Lemonade. There is such a danger for youth when the ones they count on the ...more
Kathy (Bermudaonion)
Aug 27, 2008 Kathy (Bermudaonion) rated it it was amazing
At 11 years old, Ellie Sanders is forced to grow up before most people. Her mother is mentally ill and Ellie is often forced to accept the role of care-giver. She says

"Mama, like me, loves fragile things, but she can hurt them when she’s troubled. Sometimes something comes over her, and she doesn’t realize what she’s doing, or how it will turn out bad."

When Ellie’s mother falls and is hospitalized, her father brings home “the tomato girl” to run the household. The tomato girl is her father’s lo
Jan 30, 2011 Glenda rated it really liked it
This is a dark and heartbreaking Southern story narrated by 11 year old Ellie Sanders. Her mother is mentally unstable and sinking further into her illness. Her father does all he can to keep the family together, but then he falls for the "tomato girl" and Ellie's world spirals out of control. Ellie is close to her father and she can't believe her daddy is choosing to be with Tess and not with his family. She is forced to deal with many adult issues that children should not have to face. It is h ...more
Apr 07, 2013 Cindy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Jayne's writing haunts me.
She's alive.She has to be. Her words sting like lemon juice on a fresh scrape.
Her thoughts bring me to realize why man designated the heart and not the brain as the body's chief container of emotion. Reading them, I clasp my hands over the space just to the lower left of my esophagus.
Only someone living can evoke such emotion.
The sentences touch me. I feel them. I hold my breath at times. Her prose asphyxiates me.
Reading this book, I'm eleven again. My name is Ellie
Oct 11, 2015 Verylazydaisy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
I loved this book so much. I nearly read it in one sitting. It is written so well, I felt like the pages were turning themselves.

The author perfectly captures the voice of Ellie, an eleven year old girl who is forced to deal with problems no child should have to handle alone. Her mother is seriously mentally ill in a time when such things were handled very differently. We can't let the neighbours see!

Ellie has to take care of her mother when her beloved father reaches the point where he can't d
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Jayne Pupek is the author of the newly released novel "Tomato Girl" (Algonquin Books, 2008) and a book of poems tiltled "Forms of Intercession" (Mayapple Press, 2008). Her writing has appeared in numerous literary journals. A Virginia native, Jayne has spent most of her professional life working in the field of mental health. Read more about Jayne on her blog "Notes on the Writing Life". http://ja ...more
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“Girls like Tess don’t do anything by accident. You watch her, Ellie. Don’t turn your back on her for a minute.” 0 likes
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