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Ellen Fosterby Kaye Gibbons
Synopses & Reviews
Oprah Book Club® Selection, October 1997
"When I was young, I would think of ways to kill my daddy."
So begins Kaye Gibbon's debut novel, Ellen Foster, a powerful story told by the epononymous Ellen, an 11-year orphan whose violent father is responsible for her mother's suicide. Ellen is eventually taken out of her father's care and placed in a series of temporary homes — first with her grandmother, where she is made to toil in the fields as twisted payback for her father's brutality, and then with a neglectful aunt and her spoiled daughter, Dora. Told as a dual narrative, Ellen Foster follows the heroine's ordeals both chronologically and in reflection, and ends with her wish of a "new mama" fulfilled.
"What might have been grim, melodramatic material in the hands of a less talented author is instead filled with lively humor, compassion, and intimacy. This short novel focuses on Ellen's strengths rather than her victimization, presenting a memorable heroine who rescues herself." Alice Hoffman, The New York Times
"An exhilarating and endearing tale of an 11-year-old orphan, who calls herself 'old Ellen,' moving from one woebegone situation to another with spirit and determination." Arthur I. Blaustein, Mother Jones Magazine
"Gibbons has produced a warm and caring first novel about a backwoods child persevering through hard times to establish a new and satisfying identity. It is written with the freshness of a child but the wisdom of an adult." Library Journal
"The voice of this resourceful child is mesmerizing because we are right inside her head. The words are always flawlessly right....Thus does Gibbons persuade us, as few writers can, that even a terrible childhood can be a state of grace." The New Republic
"Ellen is all the more a dreadful child for being a sensible and perceptive one; she is a limited, rather than an unreliable, narrator and her eventual realisation of her racist patronage of her friend Starletta is a telling, if highly artificial, rebuke to adults even more limited, even less reliable." Roz Kaveney, New Statesman
"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, Ellen Foster is, as Walker Percy called it, "The real thing. Which is to say, a lovely, sometimes heartwrenching novel. . . . [Ellen Foster] is as much a part of the backwoods South as a Faulkner character—and a good deal more endearing."
About the Author
Kaye Gibbons was born in Nash County, North Carolina in 1960. She graduated from Rocky Mount High School and continued her education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While at Chapel Hill, she wrote her first novel, Ellen Foster, which reviewers and fans praised as an extraordinary debut. Eudora Welty said that "the honesty of thought and eye and feeling and word mark the work of this talented writer." Ellen Foster went on to win the Sue Kaufman Award for First Fiction from the Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as numerous other awards. The book has been widely translated and has gained wide course adoption.
Her second novel, A Virtuous Woman, was published in 1989 and also received wide praise in the United States and abroad. The San Francisco Chronicle called the book "a perfect little gem."
In 1989, Gibbons received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to write a third novel, A Cure for Dreams, which was published in 1991. This novel won the 1990/PEN Revson Award for the best work of fiction published by a writer under 35, as well as the Heartland Prize for Fiction from The Chicago Tribune and the North Carolina Sir Walter Raleigh Award.
Her fourth book, Charms for the Easy Life, was published in March 1993. It was a New York Times bestseller and prompted a Time magazine review to say, "Some people might give up their second-born to write as well as Kaye Gibbons." Her fifth book, Sights Unseen, was also a national bestseller. In 1996, Kaye Gibbons was the youngest writer ever to receive the Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a French knighthood recognizing her contribution to French literature.
Her next novel, On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon, will be published in the summer of 1998. Gibbons lives in North Carolina with her family.
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