Julia, Ellen's art teacher, and Roy, her husband, nurture Ellen while she is in their care. Ellen is taunted by a boy at school for living with Julia, but he retreats when she threatens to punch him. Julia and Roy are both hippies who have moved to the south from the northeast to settle down and begin a family, of which Ellen hopes she can be a part. Ellen enjoys helping Julia and Roy work in their organic garden, and she is fascinated by Roy's use of "chickenshit" for fertilizer.
When Julia tells Ellen that there are more men like her father in the world, Ellen shudders at the thought, having always believed that he was the only person capable of such evil. She thinks that the day God made her father, God must have "not [been] thinking straight." She wonders how God could have let evil men like her father and the rest of them onto the earth.
When Julia and Roy ask Ellen what she would like for her birthday, she is a bit upset, as she has forgotten that her eleventh birthday is fast approaching. Ellen is unsure of how she would like to celebrate, and when Julia asks her what she usually does, Ellen tells her that she always turns the new age, goes to bed, and feels different when she wakes the next morning. Ultimately, Ellen decides that she will invite Starletta over for a modest birthday party. Starletta arrives with a gift, and the girls go to the movie theater, where Starletta cannot produce a dollar for her ticket. Ellen pulls her out of line to search her and finds the dollar Starletta's mother had hidden rolled up in her sock. Roy bakes Ellen a birthday cake, and Julia gives her colored pencils and oil paint, for which Ellen is thrilled.
Ellen offers Starletta's mother a dollar as compensation for a night's stay, foreshadowing how, later in the novel, she will offer her life savings of one hundred and sixty-six dollars to her new mama as compensation for room, board, and a bit of attention. These parallel instances highlight Ellen's keen sense of fairness and, namely, her desire for equivalency, especially between herself and the people she cares about. Her desire for fairness and equivalency is also an integral part of Ellen's friendship with Starletta, as is demonstrated in the last chapters of the book when Ellen wants nothing more for them to be "even" friends. The issue of equivalency is rooted most deeply in the racial tension between the two girls and between black and white in general.
This ever-present tension appears in Chapter 7, when Ellen reports that she does not "feel like [she] had slept in a colored house," though, indeed, she has. Ellen's feeling that she has not "slept in a colored house" is much like her feeling, in Chapter 6, that the sweater Starletta's parents have given her does not seem at all like a "colored sweater." These recurring feelings beg Ellen to question the difference between white and black and if that difference truly matters. Ultimately, these questions lead to her realization that there is no considerable difference between herself and Starletta, though she does not realize this until the last few chapters of the book. This realization, however, develops gradually and forms as a slow progression of Ellen's thinking, catapulted first by the sweater and soon afterwards by the night she spends at Starletta's house.
Ellen's idea of justice is touched upon also by her encounters with her father and with the boy who taunts her at school. Even in the face and strength of her monstrous father, Ellen has the courage to fight back, as she knows she does not deserve the cruelty her father inflicts. Despite her immense courage, Ellen does not have the power to control her father's drunken rages and must live in fear of him and his terrible abuse. However, Ellen does have the strength and bravery to control the way she is treated by her classmates, as she demonstrates when she challenges the boy who harasses her at school. Ellen defies the bratty boy as she would like to defy her father, though, physically, she is unable to defend herself against him. Ellen boldly and firmly tells the boy to "shut his mouth" or she will punch him and that he had "better watch out [because she is] as strong as an ox." It is this self-confidence and dignity with which Ellen carries herself that makes her the book's protagonist. She is brave in the face of the worst adversity, and for that we cannot help but admire her. Indeed, Ellen is "as strong as an ox" to have survived all of the cruelty, neglect, and abuse she has endured.