Ellen Foster is a young girl seeking identity through family and home. The novel opens with a flash forward to the end where Ellen is at peace, has a bed, and is well fed.
The story then moves back to the beginning where Ellen decides to flee an abusive father. Her first attempts are temporary including overnight at a friends house and a weekend with an aunt that sends her back home.
When the abuse continues, Ellen stays with one of her teachers. Her father shows up at school drunk to get her back. He offers her money. Ellen tells him to leave it on the ground and go away which he does.
Ellen's grandmother takes custody of Ellen. Ellen works the fields for her grandmother along with the black labor. The grandmother gets sick and Ellen starts caring for the dying grandmother. After the grandmother dies, Ellen ends up with another aunt and a cousin that treat her poorly and make fun of her. There is a lot of arguing and conflict.
Ellen spots a family at church with children that behave and she learns they are called Foster. Ellen takes opportunities to show them that she is well behaved as part of a plan to get them to accept her. One day she packs up and just shows up at their doorstep. It turns out it is a foster family and that's where Ellen picks her last name. A court official tries to explain it to her, but Ellen insists on calling herself by that name. Because her father has died, the family is able to adopt her. This is revealed as the place where she finds self, safety, and peace as seen from the first scene of the novel.
Best part of story, including ending:
The story shows a child learning to overcome impossible odds to find self and family.
Best scene in story:
To get back at her cousin, she pretends to have a boyfriend that bought her a microscope. It shows Ellen's clever nature, but also shows a weird childishness.
Opinion about the main character:
It makes me sad that at such a young age she learns to equate money with the ability to have freedom. Her childhood is stolen in many ways.