Saturday, August 17, 2013

"The Life All Around Me, by Ellen Foster," by Kaye Gibbons

Kaye Gibbons’ loosely autobiographical 1987 novel “Ellen Foster” was extremely well received. It told the very sad story of a young North Carolina girl, aged about nine to eleven during the course of the story, whose mother was ill and then died, and whose father was both alcoholic and abusive. Ellen was somehow, despite her difficult situation, smart and resourceful, and kept trying to find someone to give her a home. Various relatives and strangers did so temporarily, but she had mostly bad experiences with these substitute parents until she found a kind foster mother. I read that novel when it came out, and remember it as powerful. The voice of the young Ellen is unique. I have now just listened on CD to a sequel, “The Life All Around Me, by Ellen Foster,” published by Gibbons in 2006, and read by the author herself on the CD. Ellen is now 15 years old, and although she lives in a good home with a kind foster mother who has become almost like a “real” mother to her, she is still quite poor and still has problems. She is very precocious, works hard, wants to learn, and is bored in school. She writes to the President of Harvard, hoping to be able to study there. Meanwhile, she finds out some news about her mother’s property that may change her life. She is still loyal to her friend Starletta and to other friends, both adults and children, who have been there for her. This sequel allows readers to see Ellen’s life becoming better, which is a great gift from the author. By the end of the novel, we believe that Ellen has a bright future. This young woman continues to be a resourceful, kind, smart, and true-to-herself character. At the end of the CD, there is an interview with the author, in which she reveals that she plans to write further sequels about Ellen’s life. I look forward to those.

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