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Ellen Foster

Kaye Gibbons

Chapter 12

Chapter 11

Chapter 12, page 2

page 1 of 2


Ellen "counts up" the numerous things she likes the most about her new home, the first being that she does not plan to leave until she is old, and, if someone ever tries to make her leave, she vows to chain herself to the bed. Second, she is glad that she does not owe anyone money and that she always has good food to eat and never has to feel guilty for eating or scrounge for food. Lastly, Ellen likes that her new mama tells her good morning "like she means it."

Ellen readies herself for school on Monday morning and, after a hearty breakfast, prepares to leave with her new sisters. Roger cries and reaches for Stella as they go out the door. Ellen explains that Stella is Roger's mother and that Stella, who is in seventh grade, is the youngest mother she has ever known. On the bus ride to school, Stella sits in the very back and flirts with the boys, and Ellen is certain that she lets the boys feel up her shirt, though she dares not turn around to look.

During music class, Ellen moves her lips but does not sing. She thinks of Starletta and how they have drifted apart. Starletta is visibly older, having removed the plaits from her hair and having grown rather tall. Ellen feels the urge to press her hands to her and stop her from "growing into a time [when] she will not want to play." Starletta has developed a crush on a white boy named Tom, though Ellen knows she will never be able to have him, just because Starletta is black. Starletta knows that, financially, Tom can provide her with more than a black boy can. Starletta and Ellen both keep lists of things to tell one another, though Ellen fears that soon Starletta will lose interest and forget about her. Thus, she wants to find something that will make Starletta remember her forever.

On her way home from school that day, Ellen wonders if her new mama will let Starletta stay over their house for the weekend. She has an innate feeling that her answer will be yes and knows that she is brave for daring to do something that has never been done before. She remembers when, two years ago, she would not eat a "colored biscuit" even when she was starving and wonders if she is the same girl. Now, she sometimes thinks that, deep down, she is really a colored person and is ashamed when she remembers how, in the list she made of what she wanted for her family, she had written "white."

Presently, all Ellen wants is for Starletta to stay at her house and to know that she loves her. To prove her love, Ellen says that she will even lick Starletta's cup, ashamed to remember the day she would not even eat a meal with Starletta and her family.

Each Tuesday, Ellen must see the school psychologist. She dreads going to see him and understands that the more problems she has, the more money he is paid to deconstruct them. Thus, she tells him very little about herself. The psychologist first tells Ellen that she is unsociable and later diagnoses her with an identity problem, as she uses a last name, "Foster," that is not really her own. Ellen explains that she has changed her last name because she wanted a new beginning to match her new family, a foster family. However, Ellen does not understand that her new mother is, as adults know her, a foster mother. The psychologist explains the meaning of a foster family, and, for a moment, Ellen feels foolish. She quickly recovers and asks if she may continue using "Foster" as her last name. The psychologist continues to probe Ellen about her identity, and she tells him off. This is her last visit to the psychologist.

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