For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.
Day 13, Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
Ellen, the narrator of this novel set somewhere in the South, is innocent but wise, ignorant but smart, and always hopeful that her lot will get better, because it sure as heck can’t get worse. All Ellen wants is a family. She is 11 when her mother dies from a weak—or maybe wearied—heart. Ellen is not safe with her mean, drunken father. Her bitter and paranoid grandmother uses Ellen as free labor and an emotional punching bag. One aunt can’t keep her. Another aunt could keep her but won’t because that would mean taking a minute’s attention away from her own spoiled daughter. Ellen’s friend Starletta and her parents are kind and welcoming, but in this place and era, Ellen can’t move in with a black family. Ellen’s well-meaning hippie teacher takes her in but it’s temporary. Finally, at church, Ellen notices a kind-looking woman and her well-behaved children. She is told they are a foster family. Misunderstanding, Ellen decides this Mrs. Foster should be her new mother and the Fosters should be her new family. She sets out to make that happen.
Why is Ellen Foster a good read for women? Female characters dominate this story, and the portraits are not all flattering, but Ellen’s message is about determinedly seeking what you want despite overwhelming obstacles. In Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons created a child narrator as memorable and effective as Scout Finch or Bone Boatwright. Ellen tells her story through the perspective of a powerless child who doesn’t understand how powerful adults can allow the wrongs of the world to happen. Reading this book will leave you wondering the same thing.