Original Year of Publication:
1995Paperback Page Count:
Seventeen and seven months pregnant, Noval Nation--a girl with an unlucky streak when it comes to sevens--is left at a Wal-Mart in the small Oklahoma town of Sequoyah by her boyfriend, Willy Jack. Far from home and with only seven seventy-seven in her pocket, Novalee secretly camps out at the Wal-Mart, helped only by kind strangers she meets along her way. In the meantime, Willy Jack gets thrown in prison, tangled up with a ruthless music agent, and haunted by the biggest lie he ever told. Traveling through seven years in Novalee and Willy Jack's parallel lives, Where the Heart Is
tells a very simple, yet very complicated story of different kinds of love, untruths, and growing up.
I saw Where the heart Is
, the movie, a few years ago. It starred Natalie Portman in a very good turn as a convincing Novalee. But as good as the movie was, I felt that it was missing something. Now, when I first picked up the book, I did not know that it was an Oprah's Book Club pick. This probably owes to the fact that I despise Oprah and all of her many branches of popularity. But surprisingly, Where the Heart Is Didn't turn out to be as corny or typical as I feared it would be.
The book does have its faults--namely the ones that I mentioned above. It seems that there are a ton of novels running in the same vein: country girl with a baby gets mistreated by a redneck boy who's so awful and so terrible, while a bunch of sweet Aw-Shucks-Aren't-They-Adorable people take care of her. As a girl from the South--where many of these books are set--who is related to a couple of girls who went through mildly similar situations, I know the real deal. In the real world, people like Sister Husband and Moses Whitecotton aren't going to help you out. In the real world, a kind, sensitive librarian won't take on you and your kid. In the real world, things would be a lot tougher than Novalee lets on.
Those kind of happily-ever-after plot devices annoy me to no end, because they can get a bit... condescending? But luckily, Letts skates just by the preachiness many novels in this string possess. Novalee's innocence does wear on you for a bit--as she's the main character--but it is balanced out by the opportunistic perspective of Willy Jack, and the occasional glimpse into Forney's mind. Because, as unrealistic as he is, Forney is a truly lovable character.
I did feel like Letts had a tendency of just scratching the surface with some characters, and not fleshing them out. I would have liked to see more flaws in the side characters; even Forney suffered from that problem. Lexie was probably the most flawed out of the bunch, and even she didn't seem to have a mean streak.
Could a pregnant teenager really live in Wal-Mart? Probably not. But Letts convinces us that it could and did happen. The strangeness of Novalee's life contrasts sharply to Willy Jack's, which gives the book a dose of reality. Willy Jack, however, isn't a complete villain. He's simply, it seems, too stupid and self-centered to know the difference between right and wrong--not until it's too late. (I did feel like Novalee was far too kind to him at the end of the book, but whatever. Some people place a lot of weight on their child's biological parent.)
Four out of Five Stars:
Is it corny in spots? Yes. Is it nauseatingly sweet in others? Of course. But do we expect any different? No; as soon as you read the first page, you know the tone and meaning of Where the Heart Is
. It's a book without mystery, and without anything particularly surprising. But at the same time, it holds an endearing quality. It's worth a shot, but only if you like books of the supposed "real life" genre.Also by this Author: Shoot the Moon