Today I finished Tomato Girl, by Jayne Pupek (discussed earlier on the blog here). Tomato Girl is a terribly sad story about Ellie Sanders, an 11-year old girl living a truly awful life in 1969 with her mentally ill mother, infatuated father, and a number of other adults who, while well-meaning, ultimately let her down. The book is told through Ellie’s eyes exclusively, and the narrative voice is that of a pre-adolescent girl.
From the second I started reading this book, I was hooked. Like I said, it’s very sad, as Ellie’s circumstances get worse and worse as the pages turn. Just when you think she couldn’t tolerate any more sadness or stress, something more devastating happens. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but initially, Ellie’s very unstable mother suffers a fall down the basement stairs and has to go to the hospital for trauma to her head. While she’s gone, Ellie’s father, who’s always been her great protector, invites a teenage girl to come and live with them to help with the household chores. (She’s the Tomato Girl of the title, so named because she grows tomatoes that she sells to Ellie’s father’s store). But Ellie’s father is in love with the Tomato Girl, and as she slowly displaces Ellie’s mother as his center of attention, Ellie watches her already precarious world start to unravel and her parents ultimately betray and abandon her.
While Ellie keeps in most of her emotions and hides the truly awful from everyone around her, Pupek’s readers get to inhabit Ellie’s mind and see the whole picture. The story is told simply, and quietly, but it is unbelievably powerful. I could not put this book down, and I am sad it’s over. I had a few quibbles with it – I didn’t love a subplot involving an older woman with supernatural powers who is the only person to care consistently for Ellie in the book. (I don’t like anything supernatural – it distracts me). But overall, this was an excellent read.
Tomato Girl‘s author, Jayne Pupek, emailed me after I posted my initial post about the book and graciously offered to send an autographed copy to an EDIWTB reader. If you’d like to be entered into the giveaway, please leave a comment here and make sure that I have your email address. I will pick a name on Saturday, November 15.
Highly recommended if you can tolerate sadness and grave injustice. I just re-read Jill’s review at Breaking the Spine – she and I were in complete agreement about this book. It’s amazing how similar our reviews are!