Kaye Gibbons

Books Reviews
Kaye Gibbons

Sequel to Ellen Foster offers one more glimpse into life of Gibbons’ beloved protagonist.

Whatever happened to put-upon, plucky Ellen Foster? Kaye Gibbons’ The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster is a funny book that answers the question like a postscript to her financially and critically successful earlier novel, Ellen Foster.

She’s 15, smarter than ever (and everyone), in full voice—replete with malapropisms and country syntax—displaying wisdom enough to nearly mitigate the lack of it in almost everybody else. Folks around her are either dumb and touchingly kind, or dumb and mean. What Ellen says of her aunt might be said of too many American citizens: She ridiculed intellectual ideas and curiosity and felt better when people and things around her were mediocre.

Yet Ellen is mostly fine, loved and respected, dealing with the after-trauma of her bad early childhood, and set on tying up loose family ends while working toward her goal to study at Harvard. The plot involves her discovery of a conflict she didn’t know she had, and the discovery of other resources that’ll make for a happy-ever-after. Earlier themes of race, friendship, female bonding and self-reliance also comprise this sequel, with Ellen relying on what she’s learned about being a good person, and learning from her foster mother how to be a good woman.

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