Such is the case with Kaye Gibbons' debut novel, Ellen Foster. I read this little book with a big heart over ten years ago. Ms. Gibbons' deft ability to capture the voice of her eleven year-old protagonist is reminiscent of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Ellen Foster is looking back at her life with two years in between then and now. She never utters an untrue word.
“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.
The way I liked best was letting go a poisonous spider in his bed. It would bite him and he'd be dead and swollen up and I would shudder to find him so. Of course I would call the rescue squad and tell them to come quick something's the matter with my daddy. When they come in the house I'm all in a state of shock and just don't know how to act what with two colored boys heaving my dead daddy onto a roller cot. I just stand in the door and look like I'm shaking all over.
But I did not kill my daddy. He drank his own self to death the year after the County moved me out. I heard how they found him shut up in the house dead and everything. Next thing I know he's in the ground and the house is rented out to a family of four.”
Speaking from a writer’s perspective, Ms. Gibbons makes it seem like she sat down and wrote this novel in an afternoon. It reads effortlessly which I suspect means that it was not written in an afternoon. Ms. Gibbons went to great lengths to perfect every line.
If Ellen Foster is a book you’ve somehow missed, I highly recommend it. The simplicity belies its complexity. This could have been a sad and dark coming-of-age novel, but Ms. Gibbons keeps the story lively and enticing through Ellen Foster’s witty and true story telling.
Kaye Gibbons captures southern mentalities and wounds without being cliché, and the greatest thing about this big little novel is that Ellen Foster rescues herself.
I give it 5 out of 5 STARS.
Michele Young-Stone is the author of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors. A resident of North Carolina, Michele's next two novels are under contract with Simon & Schuster. micheleyoungstone.com