Where the Heart Is (Letts)

Where the Heart Is
Billie Letts, 1995
Grand Central Publishing
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780446603652

Summary
Novalee Nation is seventeen, seven months pregnant, and on her way to California with her no-good boyfriend when he abandons her at a shopping mall in Oklahoma. In this contemporary fairy tale with no fairy godmother in sight, Novalee depends on herself to build a new life.

Living inside a Wal-Mart at night and on the streets during the day, Novalee patches together a family from the caring people she meets. Capturing each one on Polaroid film, she sees the goodness of each soul and finds a way to help others as they help her. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1937
Where—Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
Education—B.A., Southeast Missouri State University
Awards—Percy Walker Award
Currently—lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma


Billie Letts is the author of numerous highly acclaimed short stories and screenplay, and a former professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Her first novel, Where The Heart Is, won the Walker Percy Award, sold more than three million copies, and became a major motion picture. Her second novel, The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, was named the first "Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma" selection. Her third novel, Shoot the Moon and her fourth novel, Made in the U.S.A. were both New York Times bestsellers. Billie Letts is a native Oklahoman, and currently lives in Tulsa. (From the publisher.)

More
Betts was married to professor-turned-actor Dennis Letts, from 1958 until his death from cancer in 2008. Dennis served as Billie's editor for her novels. Together they had three sons: Dana Letts; playwright and actor, Tracy Letts; jazz musician and composer, Shawn Letts. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
This crisp, tight, beautifully written work never goes a word to far.... Prizewinning writers Clyde Edgerton, E. Annie Proulx, and Barbara Kingsolver may have to move over to make room for Billie Letts.
Dallas Morning News

You can't go wrong with charactes like these.... Where The Heart Is... is quick and funny, and you absolutely love these people.
Miami Herald


A feel-good story, centered in America's heartland, where dreams can still come true and people still care enough about each other to give a leg up when it is needed.... A wonderful inspirational book that causes chuckles and tears.
Midwest Book Review


It isn't only that Billie Letts has a talent for humor and an ear for Wal-Mart vernacular, but that she has a genuine affection for her characters. Novelee and Sister and Forney are marvelously real, and they make reading [this novel] pure pleasure.
North American Review


Readers immersed in the offbeat world of Letts's lively, affecting first novel will forgive its occasional forced quirkiness. For 17-year-old Novalee Nation, seven months pregnant, the phrase "home is where your history begins" has a special meaning. Leaving behind a trail of foster homes in Tennessee trailer parks to live in a real house with her boyfriend, Willy Jack Pickens, Novalee instead finds herself abandoned in front of a Wal-Mart in Sequoyah, Okla. With nowhere to turn, she cleverly conceals herself within the store, keeping careful accounts until giving birth to the "Wal-Mart baby" turns her into a local celebrity. Happily, the community reaches out to Novalee and baby Americus. Sequoyah's one-woman welcoming committee, Sister Husband, takes them in; cultured librarian Forney Hull takes a shine to them; photographer Moses Whitecotton encourages Novalee's raw talent for photography by teaching her all he knows; Lexie Coop, who has a huge appetite for food, diet fads and the wrong men, befriends her; and legendary Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton gives her a job. Meanwhile, Willy Jack, an aspiring musician, gets a shot at the big time before hitting bottom and realizing what he's left behind. Letts's wacky characters are depicted with humor and hope, as well as an earnestness that rises above the story's uneven conceits, resulting in a heartfelt and gratifying read.
Publishers Weekly


Novalee Nation, 17 and pregnant, finds herself stranded outside a Wal-Mart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma, with $7.77 in her pocket and no one to turn to for help. This is an unlikely beginning for a humorous and hopeful novel, but that is just what this is. As she sits outside the store taking stock of her situation, plucky Novalee meets several of the town's more unusual inhabitants: Sister Husband, who presents her with a shop-worn welcome-wagon basket; black photographer Moses Whitecotton, who conveys to her the importance of a name for her unborn child; and Indian Benny Goodluck, who gives her a buckeye tree for good luck. These and other Sequoyah citizens rally around Novalee when she has her baby on the floor of Wal-Mart, and form the basis for this most enjoyable novel. —Pamela B. Rearden, Centreville Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
School Library Journal


The tribulations of 17-year-old Novalee Nation, daughter of the Tennessee trailer parks, make up a surprisingly long, none-too-subtle tale.
Booklist



Discussion Questions
1. The theme of "home" runs throughout this novel. Would you characterize home as a place, a family, a state of mind, or, as Sister Husband says, a place "where your history begins"? As a homeless person longing for a home, Novalee's image of home is heavily influenced by the images she sees in maga-zines. How influenced are we all by portrayals of home and home life in the media, movies, and on television?

2. In the beginning of the novel, Novalee is a poor, uneducated teenage mother whose own mother abandoned her at a young age. Novalee, however, seems to be remarkably maternal and responsible in her parental role. Do you think this is a believable portrayal of teenage motherhood? Is it possible that lacking a loving mother herself she would be such a good mother? Both Novalee and Lexie defy our stereotypes of poor, single mothers. Do you think this is a strength or a weakness of the novel?

3. Novalee's superstition about the number seven intensifies after the birth of her daughter. What do you make of Novalee's seemingly irrational fears? What role do superstitions play in the lives of even the most rational of us? Are there any other patterns or cycles you recognize in the novel?

4. Despite his cruelty, women are attracted to Willy Jack and are willing to take care of him. What is the attraction of cruel men to needy women? Lexie says, "Girls like us don't get the pick of the litter." What do you think of this statement? And why do you think that Novalee decides to help Willy Jack when she learns of his plight?

5. Willy Jack's story is interspersed throughout the novel. Do you think his story is necessary to the plot? Why or why not? If this novel had been told through the eyes of Willy Jack Pickens, in what ways might we see Novalee differently?

6. Novalee takes pictures to "see something in a way nobody else ever had" and Forney reads to explore the world outside the confines of his own life. Do you think books and photography help them deal with their lives or keep them from dealing with life head on? In what other ways do we use inanimate objects to either cope with life or hide from it?

7. Children play an important role in this novel. How are their stories important? What do each of the children—Americus, Benny, Praline, Brownie--teach us about love and loss of innocence?

8. Despite their struggles, Lexie's family is incredibly loving, fun-filled, and close. This is what makes the attack on Lexie and Brownie so heart wrenching and shocking. Do you think Brownie's trust in adults can ever be fully restored? Why do you think the author decided to include such a brutal scene in a book filled with so much kindness?

9. How did you feel when Novalee spurned Forney? Did you believe they would ultimately end up together? Do you think they are well matched? Do you believe that differences in education and social class matter in a relationship, and what do you think makes it possible to bridge such differences? Or do you believe that people with similar backgrounds tend to be better matched?

10. There are no traditional families in this novel. Why do you think the author chose to write a book about home and family yet disregarded established notions of what constitutes each? Though many of us accept and embrace different forms of family life, why do you think the traditional family is still frequently portrayed as mother/father/children? Do you think this remains the "ideal"?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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