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Where the Heart Is

July 3, 2009

Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
published by Warner Books July, 1995

Read Sarah’s review of the movie adaptation

Where the Heart Is has been sitting on my shelf for years, and — as a treat — I curled up on the couch and read it this week. It is different from any other novel I’ve read.

Novalee Nation is a seventeen-year-old pregnant tenth-grade drop-out, traveling through Oklahoma, when her boyfriend abandons her on the road like a stray dog. Raised in trailer park foster homes, she yearns for a real house — one “not on wheels” — and a family.

Gradually, she gets to know the quirky residents of Sequoyah, Oklahoma. Sister Husband is a compassionate recovering alcoholic who takes Novalee in when she’s homeless. Benny Goodluck is a shy native American boy. While he plays a small part in the book, his heart and spirit are interwoven throughout the story. Lexie Cooper survives a series of bad relationships and is left with many children. Forney Hull is an eccentric librarian, dedicated to caring for his alcoholic sister. He opens Novalee’s life to books. Moses Whitecotton, a kind, fatherly photographer, helps her discover a new passion that will eventually blossom into a career.

Meanwhile, Willy Jack Pickens, the father of Novalee’s child, has abandoned her without looking back. He goes on to use and abuse more people that he meets, land in jail, and write a popular Country-Western song. His story runs parallel to Novalee’s, and their lives intersect again in an unexpected way.

I loved Novalee, and was sorry to say goodbye to her when the book ended. She was believable and human, yet she transcended any stereotypes of young single mothers. I really enjoyed the novel, though I wavered been a 3- and 4-star rating. I enjoy books with interesting, quirky characters; after all, Anne Tyler is one of my favorite writers. However, I feel novelists often go overboard with odd characters. At times, I felt this way about Where the Heart Is. There was a woman who conversed with her dead husband, a couple who lived on opposite sides of a duplex because they couldn’t agree on anything, and a man whose only dialogue was to parrot what others said. They seemed like cardboard cutouts of colorful characters, drawn to add color to the book. I would have liked it better if the author had relied on the strength of her story and the unique, memorable central characters to whom she gave real substance.

Nevertheless, this was a rich novel with characters whose company I enjoyed. I will probably read this author’s other novels, The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, Made in the USA and Shoot the Moon.

Rating:

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