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Book Review: The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons (audio)

The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster 
by Kaye Gibbons 
Random House Audio 
5 hours
Read by Kaye Gibbons

Let me start out by saying this.

This book is the sequel to Kaye Gibbons’s 1987 novel and 1997 Oprah’s Book Club pick Ellen Foster, which I absolutely loved and reviewed here and named as one of my best reads of 2008. (It took me awhile to get to it, despite it being on my TBR shelf for 11 years.) I adored Ellen Foster. So, naturally, you would think (as I did) that I would fall just as much in love with this one.

Not. Even. Close.

I had a hell of a time trying to follow this book, which picks up with Ellen Foster being 15 years old and applying for admission to Harvard. (Her admission letter – written in September 1974 to President Derek Bok himself – is hilarious and is the best 8 pages of the novel.) It’s also a great plot device on author Kaye Gibbons’ part; the reader easily and succinctly recalls much of what happened in Ellen Foster from Ellen’s letter. The voice and wit is the same as one remembers it to be from the 1987 novel, and the reader anticipates that these 218 pages will be similar.

It’s not.  In my opinion (and many others’ on Goodreads), this is a confusing, disjointed, rambling narrative that is very difficult – and at times, completely impossible – to follow. There isn’t anything resembling a plot.  Characters reappear from Ellen Foster, but with little or no reintroduction, so the reader is left pondering how they are connected.

I sought out the reviews of The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster on Goodreads because as I listened to this on audio, I honestly thought the CDs had been mislabeled or that this was actually an abridged version of the novel (it is not) or something was wrong with my comprehension abilities. Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my love for Ellen Foster and my bewilderment as to how this novel wound up so dramatically different.

Aside from the characters and the location, it truly bears little resemblance to its predecessor, which is unfortunate – and utterly perplexing.


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