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Winner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation's Citation for Fiction. An eleven-year-old heroine tells her unforgettable story with honesty, perceptivity, humor, and unselfconscious heroism. "The honesty of thought and eye and feeling and word!"--Eudora Welty; "A lovely, breathtaking, sometimes heart-wrenching first novel."--Walker Percy. A Literary Guild Selection. Oprah Book Club Selection, October 1997: Kaye Gibbons is a writer who brings a short story sensibility to her novels. Rather than take advantage of the novel's longer form to paint her visions in broad, sweeping strokes, Gibbons prefers to concentrate on just one corner of the canvas and only a few colors to produce her small masterpieces. In Gibbons's case, her canvas is the American South and her colors are all the shades of gray.
In Ellen Foster, the title character is an 11-year-old orphan who refers to herself as "old Ellen," an appellation that is disturbingly apt. Ellen is an old woman in a child's body; her frail, unhappy mother dies, her abusive father alternately neglects her and makes advances on her, and she is shuttled from one uncaring relative's home to another before she finally takes matters into her own hands and finds herself a place to belong. There is something almost Dickensian about Ellen's tribulations; like Oliver Twist, David Copperfield or a host of other literary child heroes, Ellen is at the mercy of predatory adults, with only her own wit and courage--and the occasional kindness of others--to help her through. That she does, in fact, survive her childhood and even rise above it is the book's bittersweet victory.