the life all around me by Ellen Foster

Kaye Gibbons

Twenty years ago, when Kaye Gibbons’ first novel Ellen Foster was published, I, like many others, fell immediately and deeply in love with the title character, a wise and articulate 9-year-old girl who narrated a very touching, very realistic tale of overcoming the adversity of growing up poor in the South under extremely difficult circumstances. So when I spied this sequel on the shelf at Barnes & Noble there was no way I could pass it up. In the new book Ellen is 15 years old and applying to Harvard via personal essay. The time-frame of the story is the early ’70s, but the style of narration, the characters and events related are all more evocative of the turn of the previous century. And the few references to events, music or movies that were current at the time seem anachronistic; one gets the feeling that Gibbons wishes she would have set the original novel a half-century earlier. Readers new to Gibbons are advised to begin with any of her other novels, all of which are highly recommended.