Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts

This novel of modern Oklahoma is something of an enigma.

It tells the story of a girl named Novalee Nation, from the time when she is 17 years old until she is in her mid-twenties. Eight months pregnant, naïve, and actually somewhat ignorant, she has left her home in Tellico Plains, Tennessee with her boyfriend Willie Jack Pickens and is headed for Bakersfield, California.where the heart is

Novalee is quite charming in her ignorance. She believes that the number seven always brings her bad luck.  After all, on her seventh birthday, her mother ran away with a baseball player, leaving her to the kindness of friends and orphanages, in the seventh grade, her only friend got sent to the Tennessee State School for Girls, and when she got stabbed in the arm at the bar she worked at, the wound required seventy-seven stitches.

When her shoes fall through the floor of the car and she has relieve her bladder, Willie Jack pulls into a Wal-Mart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma. He gives her ten dollars, then drives off and leaves her there.  She figures it out when her change from the ten dollars comes to $7.77.

On her first day there, she meets three people who will be instrumental in her survival and good fortune: Sister Husband, a blue-haired lady who runs the town Welcome Wagon, Moses Whitecotton, a baby photographer, and Benny Goodluck, a Native American boy who gives her a buckeye tree. At a loss for what to do, she simply lives in the Wal-Mart, keeping tabs of how much she owes them for the products she uses.  When the buckeye tree starts to get sickly, she goes to the town library and meets Forney Hull.  A strange young man addicted to knowledge, Forney runs the library while his sister, the alcoholic librarian, lives upstairs.  He becomes extremely protective of Novalee and he busts a plate glass window in the Wal-Mart to help her when she gives birth to a daughter.  Cautioned by Moses that she must give her baby a very strong name, she names the girl Americus.

A reader might derive from this that the novel is all about a naïve person overcoming their background to make a success of their life—and it’s true that part of the novel is definitely about that. All of the strange and interesting names would also suggest an air of goofy whimsy—and it’s true that part of the novel fits that description.  In fact, there is such a relaxed, fun, and goofy feeling about the book that the hard parts seem to come out of the blue.  However, they do not.  The gritty, sexually perverse parts of the novel only accent how important it is to appreciate the good things in your life, the people who are important to you, and the value of overcoming even the deepest, darkest adversity.

If the book has any theme, though, it is a message to young women: do not base your sexual or long-term relationships on how a boy looks or how much money a man makes.  While Novalee and Lexi make a long string of mistakes, their lives are contrasted sharply with Sister Husband, whose one illicit relationship carries far more love than that of Willie Jack or any of the men who have left Lexi with children—or the one man who left her beaten and sodomized her children. It is a very good feeling when both of these incredible women finally figure out what is important.

This novel is quite an achievement. You can hear Oklahoma on every page with the voice of the author, in the sound of the characters’ voices, in the wind blowing across the prairie.  It is inspiring, uplifting, and yet gritty and realistic.

I highly recommend this book!

Book Reviews by Author: A – M

Alcott, Luisa MayLuisa May Alcott

(November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888)

Friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, Ms. Alcott had to work to help support her family, and like Jane Austen before her, she spun stories for her supper. Well known for her one transcendent novel, she also contributed sequels to the well-loved classic.

Little WomenLittle Women Norton Critical Edition

This is the story of four American sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, during and just following the Civil War.  Shepherded by their mother (Marmee), they become friends with their neighbors, Mr. Laurence and his grandson, Teddy (Laurie).  The book follows their lives, as well as various men they become involved with, but the book is concentrated in the person of Jo, the bookish second daughter, who is fifteen at the beginning of the story.


Isaac Asimov

Foundation


Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Mansfield Park

Sanditon and Other Stories


Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre


Truman Capote

In Cold Blood


Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game


Arthur C. Clarke

The Songs of Distant Earth


Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist


Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games


Deborah Kay Davies

Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful


Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time


Nicholas Evans

The Horse Whisperer


John Fowles

The Collector


Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust


Barbara Holland

Katharine Hepburn


Katelan Janke

Survival in the Storm:

The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards


Stephanie Kallos

Broken for You


Rebecca Kanner

The Sinners and the Sea


Jack Kerouac

On The Road


Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Dreams


Ron Koertge

Stoner & Spaz


Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird


Billie Letts

Where The Heart Is


Anne McCaffrey

An Introduction to the World of Pern

Dragonsdawn

The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy

Dragonflight

Dragonquest

The White Dragon


The Harper Hall Trilogy

Dragonsong

Dragonsinger

Dragondrums


The Renegades of Pern


All the Weyrs of Pern


Jack McDevitt

The Academy Novels

An Introduction to the Series

The Engines of God

Deepsix

Chindi