Ellen Foster grew up in a household where she was always scared. Her mother was always sick and her father always drunk. Eventually both her parents passed away. The father is abusive and the parents do not have a good relationship. She refers to the rest of her family as either “dead or crazy.” She has one friend, Scarletta. She did not have a stable home life and a happy, normal childhood. It was only after she left the house that she started to get a more stable life and a therapist. Her childhood trauma impacts the ways she thinks and acts, as well as how she views life.
The book intertwines between the past and the present which I like. It shows the differences between her old life and her new life. It is clear that her new life is so much better and her life changes in her new life are filled with more protective factors. However, the old risk factors from her previous life still impact her. Since she keeps going back to the memories of her old life, it is obvious that she thinks about what she went through often. Another thing I noticed between her old life and new life is her caretaking ways. In her old life, she was the caretaker. She took care of her mother and when her mother was at the hospital she took care of the house. She also takes care of her father when he drinks. Additionally, she is responsible for making sure her parents don’t fight. It was very disturbing to read about the kind of responsibilities she has at her age. This is probably why she refers to herself as old Ellen, but she is young and she deserves to just be a child. Her worries shouldn’t have to be about her parents, someone at her age should not have any worries. Even after her mother's death, she had to worry about her father taking all the money and drinking. At such a young age, the bills became her responsibility. When she was living with her father, before and after her mother's death- the responsibilities were on her and that broke my heart. In her new life, her “new mama” takes care of these things. I wonder what kind of an impact that will have on her in the future.
I noticed that in her new life she always talks about food and the good food that her new mama makes. This helped me understand better how important nutrition is for children. It makes sense since she never ate well as a child. She had to make do with what she had. How can someone who is starving have a good life or even focus on school? The level of stress that she had to face blows my mind. The Thanksgiving dinner she had at her father's home made me really sad. If a child is properly fed then it is a protective factor that can increase their life chances. In her new life, Ellen is possessive about food. She wakes up early to be the first one to get the food she wants. Another thing about her new life is the cleanliness. She appears put together on a daily basis. On the other hand, at her old house, she would often wear the same clothes for many days. Her clothes were outgrown and she rarely got new clothes.
I also noted that Ellen has violent tendencies which are a recurring theme throughout the book. The book starts with ways that she thinks of killing her daddy but it keeps going into ways she is going to kill or hurt other people she encounters. Even in her new life, she has urges to hurt the people around her. It is true that she just has these thoughts and doesn’t act upon them. I can see how her violent nature comes from a place of anger. However, the fact that these are her thoughts is concerning.
In Ellens's old life, there was no space for play. I think playing is essential for a child. Ellen always mentions taking care of things. It is only in her new life that she gets room and space to play. She may have had some interaction when she was a girl scout, but at school, she kept to herself. She didn’t fit in with the other children. She had scarlet whom she got along with; however, they were different races adding complications to their relationship. Scarelleta is also much younger than Ellen. However, the way that Starletta’s family treats her is amazing. It is warm, welcoming, and wholesome. It is a way for her to escape. Scareltta’s family takes her to the store, invites her for dinner, and is overall good to her. Also, Ellen could also not properly play as children should since she had the stress of the world. She was robbed of her childhood so much that she wrapped her own presents during Christmas time. This book made me realize how important playing is and how important social interaction is. Especially playing with other children. I think the interactions early on a critical component of development. I notice in her new life Ellen sometimes plays with the other children, but for the most part, she keeps to herself.
Up until the age of eleven she suffered in her father’s home. After that, she went to go live with her teacher. When her teacher threw a birthday party for her, it truly warmed my heart. I feel that celebrating a birthday is a right that every child deserves. It shows the child that they are special and they matter. However, it isn’t later in her life until Ellen finally ends up in the foster care system, in the house with her new mother that she finds the love she is looking for and that she deserves all along. It is heartwarming to see that she finally finds that sense of care from somewhere. She finally feels that she is wanted and needed. For me, I believe that for a child that is one of the most important things in life- when they feel like they belong and they are enough.