Title: The Life All Around Me By Ellen Foster
Publisher: Harcourt, Orlando, Florida
Publication Date: 2005
Book Condition: New
Dust Jacket Condition: New
Signed: Signed by Author(s)
Edition: 1st Edition
New. Unread. Signed by author during booksigning event at Pass Christian Books. Dust jacket protected in mylar cover. No remainder marks. Not price clipped. A fresh and crisp copy. Bookseller Inventory # 000135
Synopsis: This sequel to Gibbons's beloved classic Ellen Foster stands on its own as an unforgettable portrait of a redoubtable adolescent making herself up out of whole cloth. Now fifteen, Ellen is settled into a permanent home with a new mother. Strengthened by adversity and blessed with enough intelligence to design a salvation for herself, she still feels ill at ease in the world. Her sole surviving ritual-a visit to the county fair-takes on totemic importance. While she holds fast to the shreds of her childhood-humoring her best friend, Stuart, who is determined to marry her; and protecting her old neighbor, slow-witted Starletta-she negotiates her way into a larger world by selling her poetry to pay her way to a camp for gifted students. With a singular mix of perspicacity, naïveté, and compassion, Ellen draws us into her life and makes us fall in love with her all over again.
Anyone considering making an underage change in life, such
as who you're going to live with, should know there's no way to
avoid the government getting in on the decision, so try to be
kind to the lady they'll send with a stack of tests. Try to stay
calm and do your best on them.
-from The Life All Around Me By Ellen Foster
Review: The cynical view of Kaye Gibbons's The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster would be that the Poor Little Match Girl has morphed into Cinderella. Ellen Foster, a book anointed by Oprah's Book Club®, was the tale of young Ellen, daughter of a neurasthenic twit of a mother and a drunken abusive father, who was tossed out of her wicked aunt's home on Christmas Day (Shades of Dickens!). Plucky Ellen fetcheed up at the doorstep of her chosen foster mother and life settled down.
This book begins with a too cute, aggressively innocent letter to Derek Bok, President of Harvard University, asking for early admission. Now that Ellen is 15, she believes that she is ready for a larger world, a better education and a different life. That pursuit becomes an incidental subtext to ongoing events. The next two-thirds of the book feels experimental, with a jumpy, jerky style, information left out, information left in that goes nowhere--not easy reading. Then, Gibbons takes control of her story and turns everything upside down, in Ellen's favor.
There are some priceless exchanges in the book. Regarding an insight that comes to one for the first time: "It didn't matter if a thousand scholars studied how Madame Bovary probably wouldn't have had to rot from the inside if she'd read better books in her girlhood, if the idea strikes you in Baltimore in a room full of people who say they already know, my theory is it's still your personal view." And this, when she is annoying her friend, Stuart: "Stuart, I said, I never know what to do when you decide to let me in on an argument you've been having for us."
So, what does all of this add up to? A good, not great, sequel to the quite good Ellen Foster that is only an adjective away from mawkishness and sentimentality. If we adopt the aforementioned cynical view, the story becomes a treacly fable where the good prevail--and even get rich. A more generous view is that Ellen has suffered enough and it's her turn. Read it and take your pick. --Valerie Ryan
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