Ellen Foster (Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons)Read about the other entries on the list.
The first line of Ellen Foster, “When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy,” sure is a ballsy way to start a story, especially considering what “little” must mean to an 11-year-old. But it’s also fitting—Ellen is as bold and unabashed as this line. After her mother’s suicide, she sets out to find the family she knows she deserves, away from her abusive father and a series of uncaring family members. Though some scenes may give readers pause, or make them doubt such a young girl’s unflinching resolve—as when she gives a school psychiatrist a thorough telling off—you can always go back to the beginning and read that first line again to remind yourself what Ellen’s made of. (Not exactly sugar and spice.) She uses her quick wit and moxie to fight for what she’s looking for, and in doing so earns a place among the great precocious child narrators, like Huck Finn and Scout Finch.