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Ellen Foster

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  24,411 Ratings  ·  1,370 Reviews
"When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure out this or that way and run it down through my head until it got easy." So begins the tale of Ellen Foster, the brave and engaging heroine of Kay Gibbons's first novel, which won the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Institute of Arts and Letters. Wise, funny, affectionate, and true, El ...more
Paperback, 126 pages
Published May 3rd 1990 by Vintage Books (first published 1987)
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Angela M
Sep 04, 2014 Angela M rated it it was amazing


This is a short but powerful and a lot of the time a painful story . Ellen Foster is a precocious eleven year old girl whose courage and strength and infinite wisdom carry her through things that no child should bear .

I wanted to pull Ellen out of those pages and take care of her , get her away from her alcoholic father who for the most part has abandoned her and her miserable grandmother who takes her in for a period of time. But ultimately it's Ellen who pulled me up from the despair I felt fo
...more
❀Julie
Dec 01, 2016 ❀Julie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
This would make a great book club pick. It’s a quick read and simply told, but with a lot of depth, and a powerful opening line that is a real attention grabber. Ellen Foster is only 11 years old but is an “old soul” and there is a lot to be learned from her character. The story is told through her voice and the author really gets into her head giving a sense for all she is thinking and feeling. I felt it softened the tone coming from her perspective, but it really makes you think about the life ...more
Carol
May 26, 2013 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, read-2013
It is hard not to fall in love with 11 year old Ellen Foster as she narrates her struggles thru her young life of abuse and repeated disappointments in search of a safe home and someone to love her. She is so brave and bright and mature for her age, and will make you laugh in spite of it all. Great book!
Connie
"When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure out this or that way and run it down through my head until it got easy."

Ellen Foster grabs you with that first paragraph, and doesn't let go as she narrates her story. Told with humor and honesty, the orphaned girl learns what is important about people in a rural southern town in the 1970s. It's not possessions or the color of their skin, but the goodness in their hearts.

Even though Ellen's childhood has been terribly diff
...more
Diane Barnes
Mar 12, 2015 Diane Barnes rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-reads
Ellen Foster is like Scout Finch without the support system of Atticus, Jem, and Calpurnia. She's funny, courageous, level-headed, fair-minded and intelligent. With very little help from anyone, she gets herself out of a very bad situation and into a good one and teaches herself some valuable lessons along the way. I love Ellen Foster.
Betsy Robinson
Apr 21, 2015 Betsy Robinson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first-person story of Ellen Foster, a ten- to eleven-year-old Southern girl whose mother commits suicide with the agreement of her abusive father. Ellen is tough, smart, and a survivor. After she is sent from the happy foster home of her art teacher to her "mama's mama," a mean old woman, she says, ". . . it was just her and me. Me to look after her not the other way around like you might expect. That did not surprise me because I had just about given up on what you expect. I just li ...more
Duane
May 02, 2014 Duane rated it really liked it
Old Ellen is how this 11 year old refers to herself, and as the reviewer on the back of the book cover says, "she's as much a part of the backwoods South as a Faulkner character--and a good deal more endearing". She tells her story in the first person and in the first sentence of the book she says, "When I was little I would think of ways to kill my Daddy". She meant it too, and believe me, he deserved it. Her family was about as rotten as any family I have come across in literature. What a rea ...more
Irishcoda
Jul 11, 2007 Irishcoda rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Laura
Sep 30, 2013 Laura rated it it was amazing
What did I think? That's the question asked when reviewing a book on Goodreads. I freakin' loved it. It is now on my favorite shelf. I loved how she wished for eyes in the back of her head and she thought her head size was "just this side of a defect", how she gave herself a new name and how she "lived to see what would happen next". Ellen Foster her story, her voice....what is there not to love about this 10 year old?
Rebecca Foster
This was a random library book sale purchase, chosen almost entirely for the title. I set aside my usual dislike of child narrators and found an enjoyable voice-driven novella about a fiesty ten-year-old who loses both her parents (good riddance to her father, at least) and finds her own unconventional family after cycling through the homes of some truly horrid relatives. Just as an example, her maternal grandmother sends her out to work picking cotton.

The book is set in the South, presumably in
...more
Kathy
Feb 06, 2009 Kathy rated it it was ok
I've read lots of reviews of this book that were really positive. All the quotes on the book itself are of course glowing with praise. It was an Oprah's Book Club selection. It got published. A friend chose it for book club. Many people apparently think this is a really amazing book. I'm not exactly sure what I'm missing here. I didn't hate it, but I was just kind of bored and not impressed. The good thing is that it was a very short and easy book to read so I didn't feel like I wasted a lot of ...more
Patricia
Jul 28, 2007 Patricia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who don't think all movies should have a car chase
"Ellen Foster" is one of those books I have to re-read every few years. The understanding of a pre-pubescent and otherwise unlucky girl as she deals with the insanity of adult reality in the flatlandish southern US speaks of a seasoning beyond her years. Her transparent naivté is obviously predicated on the awareness of the writer herself, but then, the book is using the disingenuousness natural to a child to make observations about the adult world. This device, hardly new to the world when Kay ...more
Lisa Vegan
May 19, 2007 Lisa Vegan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone who cares about children
Little gem of a book and ultimately a very clever story about a horribly abused and neglected foster child. Ellen is incredibly resilient and she’s determined to find herself a loving home. The story isn’t depressing at all despite what its content would suggest. Loved this book.
DeB MaRtEnS
Ellen Foster, the child and narrator of this novel, is a wonderful creation. She is everything that an adult would like to believe about an abused child being able to flourish once free. The author makes it believable that Ellen, at eleven, twelve and thirteen, has the clarity of mind and freedom from emotion to recount her traumatizing life with full memory, matter-of-factness and an outstanding world view.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the plucky young fictional Ellen. I loved the insight that t
...more
Linda Lipko
Sep 26, 2010 Linda Lipko rated it it was amazing
If you are looking for a book to take your breath away, this is the one.

If you are looking for an exceptionally well-written novel wherein each phrase, each sentence, each paragraph contains poetic beauty, then this is the one.

If you are looking for a book that resonates deep within your soul, leaving you laughing, crying and simply not wanting it to end, then this is the book to read.

And, I'll go out on a huge limb to say that if you choose to read only one of my recommendations this year, plea
...more
gaudeo
Aug 24, 2011 gaudeo rated it really liked it
I give it 3 1/2 stars. The most engaging aspect of this book is its protagonist's voice: clear, unadorned, unsentimental. Her tale is truly heartbreaking--and therein lies what seems to me the book's primary flaw: the book is too short. I want to know in greater detail about Ellen's parents and the tragedy that befell her mother. I want to know more about the various homes she migrated through before finding her "new mama." I want to know more about her friend Starletta and her family. And the i ...more
Diane S ☔
Jun 30, 2013 Diane S ☔ rated it liked it
3.5 I loved this book pretty much from the first sentence, but it was this sentence that entrenched Ellen in my heart. ""What did you expect? Marry trash and see what comes of you. I could have told anybody." No young child should ever have the wisdom or the knowledge to say such a thing, and this perfectly explains how her life had been with her drunken father and sick mother.

This novel is in turn heartbreaking and amusing. Some of the things she says, the way she views things through her own
...more
Alberteinsteinmaloney
Aug 17, 2011 Alberteinsteinmaloney rated it really liked it
I picked this gem of a novel up at Borders' going out of business sale on my way home from work last night and devoured it -- cover to cover -- in a couple of hours. Eleven-year-old Ellen's uniquely insightful voice kept the tone of the novel from sinking into the saccharine sweetness of an annoyingly precocious child’s narrative. Her descriptions of attempted incest, rampant racism (often her own), and domestic violence are all the more horrific for the matter-of-fact way in which they are deta ...more
Dolors
Mar 20, 2013 Dolors rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2011
Ellen Foster is a ten year old girl who is rejected by all her family.
After the death of her weak- willed and sick mother she is left mostly on her own, her father being a drunk and violent man and her closer relations wash their hands off their responsibility.
A sad and heart-warming story, in which a little girl has to face the world and find her own place in it, keeping the illusion alive, in spite of her desolate surroundings.
Nothing new though.
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Aug 31, 2010 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Those Who Think Cormac McCarthy's the Bomb
Gibbons' style reminds me of Cormac McCarthy. For me, that's no compliment. There are no quotation marks around the dialogue, making it harder to keep track of, and almost no commas as far as the eye can see. Gibbons at least could claim a rationale for what in McCarthy I can only see as an affectation. The first person narrator, Ellen Foster, is a child, poor and uneducated, so at least one could say the punctuation impoverished style fits her.

That doesn't mean I found the novel a pleasure to
...more
Steph
Aug 04, 2009 Steph rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-fiction
This is often presented to middle or high schoolers to read, but most will not make it without adult guidance. And I believe it takes an adult mind to appreciate the voice (the dialogue is always without quotation marks) and understand the flashbacks and half-child, half-woman asides.

Abandoned, precocious Ellen suffers through being shifted from one uncaring relative to another until she finds a true home with foster parents.

If I remember correctly, Gibbons wrote this while she was in her late
...more
Pamela
This Vintage Contemporaries novel, short in length but mighty in worth, is a bittersweet jewel. Ellen Foster, surviving and thriving despite the unfair circumstances she was dealt...repeatedly. Such a winning message: never lose your humor, courage, hope or determination. "While they were at the graveyard I decided that if I quit wasting time I could be happy as anybody else in the future, and right now with one year ending and a new one starting up I thought now was the time to get old Ellen sq ...more
Lucy
Aug 26, 2008 Lucy rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sarah Wheeler
Jul 10, 2011 Sarah Wheeler rated it liked it
Shelves: obob
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mmars
Jan 05, 2014 Mmars rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-novellas
When there's an Oprah Book Club logo on the front of a book published in the late 80s and early 90s you know there's bound to be some tough stuff ahead. And young Ellen Foster is no exception. When her mother dies from an overdose of prescription drugs in which her father played some part, she is left in his end-stage alcoholic care. Or, more acurately, he is left in Ellen's care.

This book is all Ellen's. And her "voice" is remarkable. She is white southern, obviously on the wrong side of the t
...more
Londa
Dec 08, 2013 Londa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites

"When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure out this or that way and run it down through my head until it got easy."


One of the best opening lines for a book I have ever read. Knocked me off my center of gravity right away, and I was left wondering what kind of evil little girl was I going to be reading about. With an opener like that you might also think this book was somber and hopeless. Somber...Sometimes, hopeless...NO. It turned out to be filled with hilarious
...more
Tabatha
Feb 05, 2008 Tabatha rated it really liked it
Ellen Foster VintageBooks,1990,126pp.,$13.56
ISBN 0-7383-0477-8
Kaye Gibbons

“ When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy.” Ellen foster is not a homicidal girl out to kill her father, but a girl with a troubled past. She has to endure a life with her alcoholic father after her mother passes away. She moves from house to house trying to find a better life.
If you have ever lived with an alcoholic father then you might know just what Ellen is going through. If you could imagine a fa
...more
Kerrin
Nov 06, 2008 Kerrin added it
In the fiction book I read Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, the main theme is determaination. This book revolves around a ten year old girl who learns is looking for a family to love her. The main character is Ellen Foster. She struggles with trama and abuse after her mother commits suicide.

The novel Ellen Foster focuses on a girl Ellen who struggles with abuse by her father After her mother commits suicide by overdosing on her pills. Ellen must find herself a loving home and family to take her
...more
Torimac
Aug 13, 2011 Torimac rated it it was amazing
I gave it 5 stars to get your attention, especially if you've read the reviews by those who gave it only 1 or 2 stars. I desire an argument with them, to rebutt their contentions that Ellen's character is not realistic and the book's ending is not sincere. I hate to think that there are people out there who may contribute to decisions about society (by voting or otherwise poloticking) when they are denying that other realities exist.

Thus I would like to share the following points with anyone wh
...more
Zoie
Feb 29, 2012 Zoie rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Zoie by: required reading
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Kaye Gibbons was born in 1960 in Nash County, North Carolina, on Bend of the River Road. She attended North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying American and English literature. At twenty-six years old, she wrote her first novel, Ellen Foster. Praised as an extraordinary debut, Eudora Welty said that "the honesty of thought and eye and feeling and ...more
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“I might be confused sometimes in my head but it is not something you need to talk about. Before you can talk you have to line it all up in order and I had rather just let it swirl around until I am too tired to think. You just let the motion in your head wear you out. Never think about it. You just make a bigger mess that way.” 41 likes
“Have you ever felt like you could cry because you know you just heard the most important thing anybody in the world could have spoke at that second?” 17 likes
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