At the beginning of Where the Heart Is, Novalee Nation finds herself in a situation most girls her age try to avoid. She is 17 years old, seven months pregnant and stranded in a Wal-Mart parking lot with only $7.77 in her pocket. Her dead-beat boyfriend Willy Jack has gone off to California in search of fame and riches. Instead, he finds himself in jail in the company of large men and a prison doctor who has an unhealthy affinity for him.
Jobless, homeless and out of options, Novalee does what anyone in her situation would do — secretly “hibernates” in a Wal-Mart. For three months, she lives solely off cold canned vegetables and tuna. In the mornings, she sneaks out after the first customers arrive and in the evening she squeezes herself into a broom closet while the night crew cleans up and leaves.
After giving birth, she decides she needs to give the baby girl a strong name: Americus. Novalee and her baby are stuck in whirling controversy. People from around the nation send her letters and money in support of the “Wal-Mart mother.”
She meets a wide array of characters including Forney Hull, who has fallen in love with Novalee, and Lexie Coop, who has named her children after desserts (Praline, Baby Ruth, Brownie).
This book could’ve taken the sappy, drippy approach other authors resort to, but it doesn’t. Bille Letts unravels Novalee’s improvised life with a fair mixture of charm and grace. The characters, though eccentric, are the people you never knew lived in your neighborhood. They propel the plot and bring each chapter to life.
Despite being deserted and stranded in a small, unfamiliar town, Novalee does the best with what she is given. There are moments where she becomes downtrodden, but never desperate. Classic and contemporary literature has always portrayed unwed mothers as charity cases or as social lice, but Novalee is neither.
Letts has the uncanny ability to keep a reader hooked from cover to cover. Where the Heart Is captivates the mind and can be read in one sitting. The language is simple enough for everyone to understand. The storyline is well thought out and flows easily.
It’s no wonder Where the Heart Is was picked up by Oprah’s book club and 20th Century Fox, with a movie based on the book to be released April 28. This novel by Billie Letts is an enjoyable, emotional ride everyone can enjoy.
– Tanitha Kulsiri
Author: Billie Letts
Publisher: Warner Books
Publication Date: 1998