three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
21-Mar-Apr-2006
By: 
Kaye Gibbons
user_rating: 
0

A-TheLifeAllAroundMeReaders first met Ellen Foster at age 11 in Ellen Foster (1987), when she suffered under an abusive, alcoholic father and a suicidal mother. After piecing together her life, Ellen, now 15, lives happily with her adopted mother in North Carolina and is as plucky as ever. So plucky, in fact, that despite her youth, she’s decided she’s ready for Harvard. To finance her education (at the very least, at a camp for the gifted at Johns Hopkins), she sells her poetry and assignments to other students. When she returns home, she fields a marriage proposal from her best friend, a possible inheritance from her evil aunt, and memories of her past … and she starts to grow up.
Harcourt. 224 pages. $23. ISBN: 0151012040

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel’s method of telling, in which Ellen herself is the story’s landscape, is also its signal strength. As she uses her considerable resources to move toward understanding—and to react, equally, to old losses and sudden good fortune—we’re right there with her." Lynna Williams

San Diego Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The book is pure Ellen, older, more secure but still feeling her way on a lot of things, fearlessly preparing for larger worlds—of the mind and of the globe—that beckon her. Readers who’ve missed her will find Ellen satisfyingly alive and well here." Jeanne Brooks

San Antonio Exp-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The prose that follows the opening Harvard letter echoes the Southern literary tradition started by William Faulkner. The stream-of-consciousness delivery will bewilder readers at first as they sort through new names of characters and determine their roles, much like reading Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury." David Hendricks

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As she has done in other novels, Gibbons here combines a slow-moving, ruminative plot with sudden, sensational twists of the 19th-century variety. … The steady reminders of her brilliance are, by story’s end, a little wearing. And yet Ellen maintains a hold on us." Valerie Sayers

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"It is so good to see Ellen again. … It’s still Ellen, but something is awry. … You’d like to give the narrator the benefit of the doubt; maybe she has changed as an adolescent, maybe her eye has turned toward other matters." Marjorie Gellhorn Sa’adah

Newsday 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Many of Ellen’s observations and her focus on mood swings seem too mature even for a psychologically attuned teenager who feels as old as a vampire. … We only hope that Gibbons’ next visit with Ellen Foster reads less like a watered-down version of the original." Heller McAlpin

Critical Summary

Critics were thrilled to see Ellen once again—the precocious darling, the Southern Holden Caulfield, and the female Huck Finn of Ellen Foster. But is she the same gal who captivated readers nearly 20 years ago? Reviewers disagreed. In this sequel, set against the backdrop of Vietnam and Watergate, Gibbons implies that Ellen Foster was autobiographical. As a result, while the novel still feels immediate, it also has an unsettling objectivity gained from time and distance. Despite—or perhaps because of—her smarts and life experience, Ellen started to wear on a few critics, who called her "contained rather than matured" (Los Angeles Times). Whether Ellen is "less" Ellen or "more" Ellen, those who loved her the first time around will rejoice in her much-improved situation.