Before Ellen targets the foster family as the one she wants, she is nearly alone in the world—her own mama is dead, her father neglects and abuses her, her aunts and grandmother don't want her, and her only friend, Starletta, is a little black girl who eats dirt and appears not to speak. While Starletta's parents are kind, Ellen is always aware they are "colored" and, in the context of the Southern town where they all live, she is not "supposed to" be friendly with them.
Her outsider status is emphasized by the fact that most of the happy families she knows are black and she "wanted one [that is] white." She feels she cannot be a part of either Starletta's or Mavis's families, both of whom are so closeknit. Ellen's sense of herself as "not just a face in the crowd," but as someone deserving of a place in a loving family, finally enables her to find such a place and gain a sense of belonging.
Coming of Age
Ellen Foster is a coming-of-age novel in the sense that it portrays the defining events of Ellen's young life: her mother's death when Ellen is ten, her subsequent discovery that her remaining family isn't really a family at all, her planning and achieving acceptance into a new, better family, and her learning, through it all, that her black friend Starletta is worthy of her love and admiration in spite of her skin color and background.
Ellen's coming of age begins when she is propelled into the world after her mother dies and her father attempts to sexually abuse her. She struggles to find a new family and her subsequent discoveries about...