Daily Archives: March 26, 2010

Ellen Foster – Book Review

When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. – from Ellen Foster, page 1 –

So what do you do when that spinning starts and the motion carries the time wild by you and you cannot stop to see one thing to grab and stop yourself? You stand still the best you can and say strong and loud for the circle of spinning to stop so you can walk away from the noise. That is how I walked then. – from Ellen Foster, page 110 –

When this novel opens in an unnamed Southern town, Ellen is ten years old and she is telling her story which is not always easy to hear. Ellen’s father is an abusive parent and spouse … he sits by and watches Ellen’s mother overdose on prescription medicine, then threatens to kill his daughter if she seeks help for her mother. Ellen curls up next to her mother and waits for her to die. Later, she runs to her aunt after her father attempts to molest her…but her safety, it turns out, is only guaranteed for a weekend after which her aunt returns her to her father’s care.

Aunt Betsy lets me off at the end of the path just like I ask and I walk the rest of the way to the house. I will just have to lock myself up is what I thought. If I have to stay here I can lock myself up. Push the chair up to the door and keep something in there to hit with just in case. – from Ellen Foster, page 42 –

As Ellen narrates her story, she moves back and forth from present day (living with a loving foster family) to her past. Ellen’s voice is unique – funny, determined, savvy. The story she tells is heartbreaking in its starkness, the abuse as much emotional as physical. I wanted to cry for her more than once. But Ellen is nothing but resilient and wise beyond her years, and she does not spend time crying for herself – she continually holds to her dreams and moves forward against the worst of odds.

I was moved by her friendship with a young black girl Starletta. Prejudice is still the norm and Ellen’s thoughts of her friend reflects this.

Starletta slides out of her chair and her mama says to take something you better eat.

Starletta is not big as a minute.

She came at me with a biscuit in her hand and held it to my face. No matter how good it looks to you it is still a colored biscuit. – from Ellen Foster, page 32 –

Later Ellen comes to terms with the rejection of her blood relatives in the aftermath of her abuse at her father’s hand, and in doing so, she grows to love and understand Starletta. She appreciates the difficulty of racism and finds her own struggles small compared to what Starletta and her family have had to deal with.

It is the same girl but I am old now I know it is not the germs you cannot see that slide off her lips and on to a glass then to your white lips that will hurt you or turn you colored. What you had better worry about though is the people you know and trusted they would be like you because you were all made in the same batch. You need to look over your shoulder at the one who is in charge of holding you up and see if that is a knife he has in his hand. And it might not be a colored hand. But it is a knife. – from Ellen Foster, page 85 –

In the end Ellen must save herself when the adults in her life fail to safeguard her future. She finally finds love and acceptance through the kindness of her “new mama”… a foster parent who opens her arms and heart to children who need her.

Ellen Foster is a stunning, simple book about domestic violence, abuse and racism through the eyes of a child. Ellen is a survivor by any definition. She uses her intelligence, wisdom, and wit to overcome things that a child should never have to overcome. I grew to love this character who beats the odds and eventually finds a home where she is accepted.

Kaye Gibbons has penned an important book which provides an honest, searing look into society’s most shameful crime – that of child abuse.

Highly recommended.

Awareness: Child Abuse and Domestic Violence

The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) –

Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. – Helen Keller (1880 – 1968) –

So long as little children are allowed to suffer, there is no true love in this world. – Isodore Duncan –

As part of this month’s theme for the Social Justice Challenge, I need to perform an action related to the theme. I have decided that my action will be to provide information here on my blog which will raise awareness of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence. It is articles like this one which make me realize that it is not just society at large who needs to see this problem for what it is, but judges and law enforcement may also need some education. To think that a judge would mandate children have overnight visitation with a father who is a danger to them (albeit with “conditions” such as the need for a lock on the girls’ bedroom door and another adult present somewhere in the home during the visit) is appalling. Cara from The Curvature discussed this case on her blog – and she makes my argument far more compellingly than I do.

The problem is widespread (just do a Google search on “child abuse” and you will find yourself overwhelmed with thousands of articles). The National Statistics on child abuse are mind-numbing.

Over 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year in the United States; however, those reports can include multiple children.  In 2007, approximately 5.8 million children were involved in an estimated 3.2 million child abuse reports and allegations. – from Child Help.org

The numbers are staggering:

  • Almost five children die everyday as a result of child abuse.   More than three out of four are under the age of 4.
  • It is estimated that between 60-85% of child fatalities due to maltreatment are not recorded as such on death certificates.
  • A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds.
  • Ninety percent of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way; 68% are abused by family members.

The cost to society is huge:

  • Thirty-one percent of women in prison in the United States were abused as children.
  • Over 60% of people in drug rehabilitation centers report being abused or neglected as a child.
  • About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children.
  • About 80% of 21 year old that were abused as children met criteria for at least one psychological disorder.
  • Abused children are 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy
  • Children who experience child abuse & neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.
  • Children who have been sexually abused are 2.5 times more likely develop alcohol abuse
  • Children who have been sexually abused are 3.8 times more likely develop drug addiction

It is easy to become overwhelmed with the statistics and to think there is nothing we can do to change them. But, I am encouraged by the number of websites and organizations devoted not just to stopping the cycle of child abuse, but to ending domestic violence on all levels.

Here is what YOU can do:

LEARN to recognize the signs of abuse or neglect. This page on HelpGuide.org is a terrific resource to educate yourself.

REPORT suspected abuse. You do not need to be certain abuse is happening, you only need to suspect it. Your suspicions will be investigated by people trained in identifying abuse. Reporting is anonymous.

EDUCATE those around you. April is Child Abuse Prevention month. You can take action – here is a calendar with an action per day during the month of April.

ADD YOUR NAME to the U.S. Postage Stamp Initiative (to increase awareness of the Children’s Memorial Flag, CWLA and Alameda County are submitting a proposal for the Children’s Memorial Flag to be commemorated on a US postal stamp). **I added my name to this initiative as another part of my action for this month’s Social Justice theme.

I will leave you with a touching video about child abuse…we CAN do something: