The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster


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The triumphant return of the New York Times bestselling novel’s orphaned heroine—“the Southern Holden Caulfield . . . the female Huck Finn” (Bookmarks Magazine).
Ellen Foster, fifteen years old, formidable, and back in North Carolina with a loving new foster mother, has written to the president of Harvard, asking for early admission. Having already crammed a lot of tragedy, adversity, and trauma into her young years, surely she’s due something.
In the meantime, she’s got a lot on her plate: composing poetry and selling it to classmates; trying to tactfully back away from a marriage proposal from her best friend; administering compassion to a slow-witted neighbor who’s found herself pregnant; and planning ahead for a writing camp for the gifted. Fueled by an indomitable spirit, undeterred by a naiveté she refuses to acknowledge, and patiently waiting on word from Mr. Derek Bok about her admission to the Ivy League, Ellen is going to continue to cram, while plotting her own deliverance from a town she knows in her heart she’s outgrown.
Alice Hoffman, in The New York Times Book Review, said Ellen Foster “may be the most trustworthy character in recent fiction.” After her debut in Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster— awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a special citation from the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, and chosen for Oprah Winfrey’s book club—Ellen returns in this unforgettable sequel.



Publié par
Date de parution 06 novembre 2006
Nombre de visites sur la page 3
EAN13 9780547541433
Langue English

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Title Page Table of Contents Copyright Dedication Letter to President Derek C. Bok One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve Christmas Eve 1975 About the Author
Table of Contents
Copyright © 2006 by Kaye Gibbons All rights reserved. No part of this publication ma y be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, inc luding photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without p ermission in writing from the publisher. For information about permission to reproduce selec tions from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing C ompany, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters (inclu ding Doctor Derek Bok), places, organizations, and events are the products of the a uthor’s imagination or are used fictitiously for verisimilitude, and any resemblanc e to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edi tion as follows: Gibbons, Kaye, 1960– The life all around me by Ellen Foster/Kaye Gibbons .—1st ed. p. cm. 1. Teenage girls—Fiction. 2. Foster home care—Fiction. 3. Poetry—Authorship— Fiction. 4. North Carolina—Fiction. I. Title. PS3557.I13917L54 2006 813'54—dc22 2005014552 ISBN-13: 978-0151-01204-6 ISBN-10: 0-15-101204-0 eISBN 978-0-547-54143-3 v1.0813
For Barbara Sue Atkins Allen Batts The town lady with all the names, Who prefers life and fabric textured. And For my daughters, Mary, Leslie, and Louise, Why and how I do this. And with all thanks to Connie May Fowler, Who led me to Joy Harris, Who led me to Ann Patty, Who led to this, this next one, the one after that...
September 20, 1974 President Derek C. Bok Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts Dear President Bok, My name is Ellen Foster. I hope this finds you happ y, in good health, and thriving in picturesque New England. It is not quite as scen ic here in my part of North Carolina, also known as Variety Vacationland, but this is because I live in the flat, blank section between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Smokey Mountains, which team up to account for the Variety. One of my mottoes is that nothing you think, feel, or do should be watered down, so when I decided to try out for college, Harvard s ounded like the only place to be. The main reason I’m returning my information to you instead of the correct office is because there happen to be some things off the average about me and I needed to make sure you know they’re reality. Wanting to start Harvard at only fifteen could seem like a tale, for example, but it’s true and I believe it makes sound sense because of all the surplus living that was jammed i nto the years. My childhood was the kind that saturates you with q uick ambition to think through and begin the next episode of your life, al though I’ve been trying to seize each day and appreciate it more as is. A compare an d contrast would be trying to break the trend of picking through oranges and hand ling them until you believe you’ve finally come across the perfect example to taste. Those years also made me into an individual who wouldn’t be disdone by th e large experience of leaving my road to go learn amid ten thousand or so older s trangers, not to say anything is currently the matter. Everything has definitely bee n on the up in up, but even if I was trying to escape pressing hardship at home or a checkered reputation at school, I wouldn’t select Harvard to go on the lam. A person who graduated from there was supposed to g rade how close I come to being Harvard material, and I need to let you know I went to town to meet the man we have, but when I got to his nursing home I found him unaware. He’d had another stroke the day before and is now locked in a state of deep coma, but if another one crops up before the deadline, I’ll get them to create an opinion and send it to you immediately. The bookmobile libraria n who told me about the man is keeping her eyes peeled, but for now, I’d appreciate it if you could please allow this letter to count toward the missing point of view. If the man had been able to ask why I felt motivate d toward Harvard, I would’ve said I want to be exposed to harder teachers who ha ve strict yet interesting requirements and a student body that thrives on curiosity. It’d be fascinating to be in a lunchroom with people sharing information abou t simple miracles, such as the smallpox and hookworm vaccinations, or having someo ne speak up and tell about a family vacation to Crete. In fact, my goal is to study both English and medicine and then enter the field of epidemic disease research. I see myself going into the wilds of places like Bali or Tahiti to research folk customs of medical cures and
deliver vaccines as well as lessons on both nutriti on and poetry. To reach this ideal, what I believe I need to do no w is go ahead and enter a future where people share a love of living more in the mind and see a value in studying things that never sound required for survi val on the surface, such as how Socrates talked with his philosophical pupils. I ca n only imagine the daily awe of learning while surrounded by marble columns featuri ng the sayings of Aristotle, Homer and others, New England fall foliage, and perhaps some flying buttresses. It sounds urgent, but it’s only because the best time to leave is almost here. The present situation is I’m at the threshold of comple ting nine years at my rural school and crossing the real and symbolic road to enter th e high school. I could easily turn toward town and the train station instead, where th e map says the train lets out a very walkable sliver of distance from Harvard, unle ss a night arrival or books I may need to bring in the baggage make it wiser to flag a taxi for the campus dormitory or female rooming house, depending on what each wou ld be asking. Going on to the brief narration of my background se ction, I need to let you know not to read mine and think this girl’s trying to create a mood of shock and sympathy to gain a free ride or discount. The summa ry is that my mother became too sad and died when I was nine, and ordinary life got and stayed unusual for the two years it took to track down the steady foster s ituation I still enjoy here. Things in between include moving out of the house due to m y father’s problems and then his death due to a sudden head vein explosion the n ext year, living with an aunt who didn’t have raising another girl in mind, livin g with my art teacher and then getting moved out of there because of judicial bran ch confusion, getting assigned to live with my grandmother who soon sickened, ling ered, and died, loving school as well as close friends throughout, reading like a fiend, having to move out of another house on Christmas and walking up the road to the house of girls run by a foster lady, thus my name Ellen Foster. If I had the job of selecting a well-rounded group of individuals to come to my college, I would worry about an underage orphan with a list of obstacles showing up and being a misfit, but I want to emphasize that I get along well both at school and at home. My foster mother is not pleased with m y educational outlook and has tried to correct it on this end, but the private sc hool here is the Academy of the New Dawn Apocalypse, and the school board said forc ed busing was enough upheaval so they cannot allow students to bend the rules to skip grades or change schools, unless a person needs Braille material or rails. When I asked her about Harvard, she said she’d seen college careers pan ou t for several piano and mathematical prodigies on public television, so not hing would be lost by me giving it a try with only offering more general skills of the mind. I realize that it could not be more expensive, which is why I need to emphasize that I know how to work and don’t at all mind it. On a typical morning at Harvard, for example, I cou ld put in a few hours at the cafeteria, working the breakfast tray line, or at the gym, handing out baskets, although I have more experience in the library. I’v e been trained in all areas from ordering from the state depository to changing bull etin boards and worked in there alone for the three months of the librarian’s knee surgery and malpractice case, and as she is now wheelchair bound and so much of a library involves reaching, I catch her up on a range of her daily duties. If you do not have the Dewey decimal system, I’d quickly adapt to your procedure. There’ s also the school store and canteen, and I’ve worked in the concession stand at high school sports games and
during a series of wrestling extravaganzas in town and Billy Graham crusade shows. Besides the current weekend jobs in home and church cleaning and magazine sales, I collect and write the school news, which runs each Saturday. It pays next to nothing, although everybody says the savings I c an put toward Harvard from the cleaning, the food service, and magazines would pay for an ordinary education, if that’s what I was after. I enclosed a copy of my co lumn, Ellen’s Tellin, to check on the possibility of getting on at the paper up there . One last idea is although I understand Harvard doesn’t have a special education section, I wanted to let you know that I could substitute teach in the neighborh ood for all types of unruly people based on my experience monitoring special students during their teacher’s rest period. Overall, it wouldn’t be a problem for me to put in forty hours per week and also maintain top grades and participate in some extracu rricular activities, such as intellectual clubs, debating leagues, and public sp eaking. I’ve been able to compete in speaking and would like to continue. Enc losed is the essay from the 1974 Woodmen of the World Youth Public Speaking con test which won in my state and then in Washington DC, entitled, Franklin Delan o Roosevelt: King Arthur or Robin Hood? There was so much to send, I decided no t to send the other one that won with the medical auxiliary entitled, Marie Curi e: Madam and Mother, but I went ahead and enclosed The Cell Wall and the Surface of Hemingway’s Stories: A Compare and Contrast, which won a scholarship to th e humanities program Johns Hopkins in Baltimore puts on this October. In closing, I hope everything helps show that I wou ldn’t be a fade-out or a person who turns to drink or dope when things become tough . I believe that anything is possible if you have the combination of love for wh at you’re doing and the will to sit down and not get up until it’s done. I realize the amount of work ahead and the costs, and even though the only scholarship plan I know about at this time is the one sponsored by the United Negro College Fund, which I am not eligible for with just the problem of being this young, I do have a m ind, which we all agree is a terrible thing to waste. Your friend, Ellen Foster