Where the Heart Is

Author: Billie Lettswhereheart
Publisher: Warner Books
Date: 1995
Genre: Women’s Fiction
ISBN: 9780446672214
Price: 12.00
Number of Pages: 358
Available Formats: Hardcover, paperback, E-Book, Audio

Rating Scale: 5Q, 4P

Links to Author’s Website and Interviews

http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/authors/billie-letts/

http://www.readersread.com/features/billieletts2.htm

Links to Reviews

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-446-51972-4

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/billie-letts/where-the-heart-is/

Reader’s Annotations

Novalee is 17, pregnant and has just been deserted by her no-good boyfriend. Broke and with nowhere to go, Novalee must find a way to survive and take care of her baby.

Plot Summary

This is the story of Novalee Nation, a pregnant 17-year-old girl who is driving across country with her boyfriend, Willy Jack. During the trip, the couple stop at a Walmart somewhere in Oklahoma so that Novalee can use the restroom. However, when she comes out of the store, she finds that Willy Jack has taken off. Novalee is stranded in a new state with almost no money and a baby on the way. With nowhere to go, she spends the day at Walmart and upon the store closing, she panics and ends up getting locked in overnight. With little options, she ends up living in the store for a period of time. During her stay she meets several people, including Sister Husband, Moses Whitecotton, Benny Goodluck and Forney Hull, who she becomes friendly with. One night, she goes into labor while she is locked in the store, but is thankfully rescued by Forney who had earlier that day discovered her secret. After spending some time in the hospital, Novalee and her baby move in with Sister Husband. The book is also interspersed with Willy Jack’s downward journey into jail, stardom and alcoholism. As Novalee raises her child, she comes to find that she is not alone and that family and a home is what you make of it.

Critical Evaluation

Without a doubt, the novel’s greatest strength lies with its wonderfully eccentric characters. All of the main characters are well-developed. There is not a one-dimensional character in the bunch. Sister Husband, Forney Hull, Moses Whitecotton, Benny Goodluck and Lexie Coop are all extremely well drawn with interesting backstories. They each have a touch of darkness in their lives but have managed to overcome it, just like Novalee. Alcoholism plays a big role in the novel, especially with Willy Jack, Sister Husband and Forney Hull, each with a unique viewpoint of the disease. Willy Jack’s journey throughout the book shows his dissent into alcoholism and his eventual self-destruction. While Sister Husband is a recovering alcoholic, who has managed to move on and devotes her life to helping others. Forney is still different, as he must take care of his sister who struggles with the disease. All of these characters show the destruction in can reign down and how it can be overcome with strength of character. These issues are only a small part of their stories. They never fall into cliché or predictableness. Each character brings a unique viewpoint to the novel and they all play an important role in Novalee’s journey to adulthood and happiness. Like Novalee, you become attached to these characters and it is very hard letting them go when you finish the novel. Very few novels succeed in making their characters come alive off the page like this.

Appeal Factors

Heartwarming, upbeat, character-driven

Read-alikes

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand
Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

Awards & Lists

Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award (Rosie Award)
Oklahoma Book Awards: Fiction category
Oprah’s Book Club
Walker Percy Award

Discussion Ideas

• Discuss the theme of home in the novel.
• Discuss Willy Jack and why his story was included in the novel.

Justification of Selection

Women’s fiction is not a genre that I had read much in, so I was looking for a title and this one caught my eye. Novalee sounded like an interesting character and after reading the first page I was immediately hooked.

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