Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Where the Heart Is [Letts]

Book: Where the Heart Is
Author: Billie Letts
Reason for Reading: book club selection
Genre: Fiction
Summary: Novalee Nation is 17 years old and 7 months pregnant when she is abandoned at Wal-Mart by her boyfriend. Finding herself in a small town where she knows no one, she builds a new life for herself and her child.

Christine's Review:
First, let me start off by saying this book was made into a movie (starring Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd) in 2000. It is one of those feel good flicks (you know the type, the kind that plays on Lifetime) and I saw it a few years ago. I'm one of those people who prefers to read a book prior to watching the movie adaptation, because I like to visualize the characters and scenes myself. There is a certain thrill of a story unfolding on a page vs. a movie screen (and the book is almost always more rewarding).
Since I already knew the basic plot, I found myself comparing the book to the movie. That being said:

This book was an Oprah book club selection and alternate selection of the Literary Guild. As such, I had high hopes and was greatly disappointed. I did not dislike this book-it was "okay." A poor, uneducated, pregnant teenager is abandoned by her boyfriend. She is taken in by a woman who becomes her surrogate mother, gets a job, finds a best friend, goes to school and eventually falls in love. Of course-she is beautiful, has a heart of gold and everyone loves her and her baby. Overall, it is a story of love, hope and survival. I appreciate 'feel good' stories like the next person but parts of this book were so unbelievable it was infuriating. For instance:
-After Novalee (the main character) is abandoned by her boyfriend, she becomes homeless and secretly moves into Wal-Mart. She does not look for a job or suitable housing. Although it is never explicitly explained, I don't think she ever had any prenatal care throughout the entire pregnancy either. However, once the baby is born, she immediately becomes a super responsible mother, it just didn't jive.
- Novalee was abandoned by her mother at age 7. She sees her again TEN years later and believes her mother when she says she wants to help Novalee get an apartment and help with the baby. Even if you didn't see the movie beforehand, anyone could see that her mother would disappear after Novalee handed over her entire savings. Novalee is someone who (after her mother left) was raised in foster homes-she should have more street smarts. I understand Letts was showing how naive she was, but come on!
-Novalee goes on birth control after the birth of her daughter (good decision) but fails to read the instruction booklet or listen to the doctor about how it works. This seems completely unrealistic to me. She is portrayed as someone who loves to read and is a responsible mother, it just doesn't fit with the character.

Additionaly-the book contains chapters discussing Willy Jack (the boyfriend who abandoned Novalee). Although Letts tied their stories together at the conclusion of the book, I felt she could have wrapped up the book differently (while maintaining the happy ending) and eliminated his story completely. There was also a section involving child rape that could have been left out.

Overall, this book was 'eh.'

Book Junkie's Grade: B-

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