Potter, Ellen 1960- (Ellen Toby-Potter)
POTTER, Ellen 1960-
Home—Upstate NY. Agent—c/o Author's Mail, MacAdam/Cage Publishing, 155 Sansome St., Suite 550, San Francisco, CA 94104-3615.
(As Ellen Toby-Potter) The Average Human, MacAdam Cage (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
Olivia Kidney (for children), illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Olivia Kidney and the Exit Academy (for children), illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Philomel (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including Hudson Review, Epoch, Cimarron Review, and Seventeen.
Olivia Kidney was adapted as an audiobook by Listening Library, 2003.
Ellen Potter is the author of Olivia Kidney, a novel for young readers that was praised by reviewers for its multi-leveled plot and "delicate balance between fantasy and stark reality," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. On the surface, the novel focuses on a twelve-year-old girl who wanders her New York apartment building after being locked out of her own flat, and meeting up with an odd and even unnerving assortment of neighbors; on another level, the novel reflects the process by which a young girl copes with her brother's death. In the Horn Book Susan Dove Lempke praised Olivia Kidney as "compelling and unsettling," while in Booklist Ilene Cooper praised Potter's "delightful way with words" despite the fact that the novel's subtleties "may be difficult for some children to handle."
Writing as Ellen Toby-Potter, Potter has also made her mark in the adult novel genre with The Average Human, a disquieting novel that takes place in the small, upstate New York town of Loomis. After a century as town residents, the Mayborn family has developed a reputation for inbreeding, violence, and incest, and townspeople gossip that the Mayborn women's withered, darkened fingernails are a telltale sign of the family's wrongdoings. After fourteen-year-old June Mayborn is jilted by shopkeeper Ed Cipriano following a brief sexual liaison, she sets fire to Cipriano's store and accidentally kills Joseph, leader of a now-defunct commune that once bordered Loomis. Joseph's funeral prompts the visit of several former cult members, among them Iris Utter and her teenage daughter Lee. Lee's curiosity about Jack Mayborn and his grim family—and her interest in investigating the eight-year-old disappearance of her younger brother Noah in Loomis—leads to a surprise ending.
"Reading Toby-Potter's dark, inventive first novel is akin to staring at a pointillist painting, nose against the canvas, and slowly stepping back until the seemingly random points converge to reveal a complete picture," explained a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, dubbing The Average Human "deliciously strange." A Kirkus Reviews critic praised the work as "A fairly intricate tale that manages not to trip itself up, crisply narrated with a minimum of digression and a remarkable understatement that draws you into the action," while Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman noted that the novel's "shifting viewpoints intensify the mystery, and, in true gothic literary style … Toby-Potter's strong, dark narrative reveals the strangeness even in those who appear most 'normal.'" Kam White wrote in Mostlyfiction.com that "The Mayborn family is so far out there that at times the story is unbelievable, but this also makes for a very engaging read."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of The Average Human, p. 1555; June 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Olivia Kidney, p. 1778; October 1, 2003, Patricia Austin, review of Olivia Kidney, p. 341.
Horn Book, September-October, 2003, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Olivia Kidney, p. 617.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of The Average Human, p. 567; June 1, 2003, review of Olivia Kidney, p. 809.
Publishers Weekly, April 28, 2003, review of The Average Human, p. 47; June 23, 2003, review of Olivia Kidney, p. 67.
School Library Journal, November 2003, B. Allison Gray, review of Olivia Kidney, p. 72.
Mostly Fiction Web site,http://mostlyfiction.com/ (August 3, 2003).
Penguin Putnam Web site,http://www.penguinputnam.com/ (May 15, 2004).*