Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
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Cannonball Read V: Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts

By Siege | Book Reviews | February 19, 2013 | Comments ()


I wanted to like Where the Heart Is. I really did. In my attempts to read things that are not all dripping gore and supernatural monsters, I picked out a nice little selection from Oprah's book club. I figured that the story sounded slightly intriguing, and the reviews seemed pretty good.

By the time I got half-way through, I was praying that a zombie horde would crash through town, eating nearly all the characters and laying waste to the country-side.

Novalee Nation is seventeen years old and seven months pregnant when the novel opens, traveling west with her boyfriend Willy-Jack. They stop at a Wal-Mart in a small town in Oklahoma, and while Novalee is in the bathroom, Willy-Jack drives away. So what does Novalee decide to do? The only thing she can do--move into the Wal-Mart! She meets some quirky, lovable small-town residents who eventually become her friends. The book covers several years of her life, and all the wonderful, valuable lessons she learns about friendship and love and strength and independence. A few serious and/or sad things happen, but mostly they flash by quickly and are basically forgotten shortly after they're revealed. Then the book has the audacity not to tie everything together in a neat bow at the end. Really, you're going to lead me prancing through every cliché in the chick-lit genre, and then not bother to at least satisfy me with the traditional happy-ever-after cliché? That just seems mean and unnecessary.

Novalee has a voice very similar to that of Sookie Stackhouse, though Sookie (while not especially bright) seems like a Fulbright scholar compared to Novalee. I get the whole "simple southern girl" thing, but there are several occasions when Novalee is just plain stupid. Poor and southern does not equal stupid, dammit. I did like a few of the supporting characters, though most of them were basically animated caricatures. Friend who is always dieting, and always getting knocked up and then abandoned! Noble elderly black man who points Novalee on the path to her future! Feisty grandma figure! I actually would have liked to a see a lot more of those characters, and find out what made them tick, instead of focusing on how they served Novalee's life. But no! And periodically,without warning, we drop in on Willy-Jack (a character I could happily have left in chapter one, never to be seen again) just to see how life is gut-punching him as a karmic punishment for the way he treated Novalee.

I hope Wal-Mart paid the author a nice chunk of change for all the favorable product placement. The Wal-Mart in my hometown would not be nearly as friendly as this fictional one (also, it'd be hard to live in because where I'm from, Wal-Mart doesn't close at night.)

And the damn woman names her daughter Americus. Americus Nation. I almost threw the book across the bus at that point, but I didn't because those other bus passengers didn't deserve to be punished for a fictional character's poor decisions.

Once again, I wish I could like this. It's not an offensive book. It's just good-heartedly dumb. I'll probably watch the movie if I see it available on Netflix Streaming or OnDemand, because I am a glutton for punishment.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it, and for more of Siege's reviews, check out her blog, The Caustic Critic.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Jannymac

    No, this isn't a great book, but I did enjoy...mostly because I just sort of grokked it -- especially the Walmart part -- though I'll admit it's a silly hook for the story.

  • Maguita NYC

    Great fun review for a so-so book, and love the comparison with Sookie Stackhouse. Spot on.

    "It’s just good-heartedly dumb"...

    So was the movie. I wish I had a book to throw at the screen when she named her daughter "Americus Nation", I was cringing so badly, my glutes got a full-on work-out...

    *Note to self: Must watch that movie 4 mornings a week.

  • Bedewcrock

    Also, Sookie Stackhouse comparison: the romantic male lead in the movie Where the Heart Is played by the sadistic vampire Franklin Mott who kidnapped Tara?

  • Maguita NYC

    Really?? Well, that's fitting. Although I loved the emotionally unstable and crazy Franklin, the only thing I can remember from that movie is Natalie Portman's accent. And baby Americus Nation. Still cringe.

  • Siege

    You'd think from the reviews of mine that get posted on Pajiba that I hate everything...it's not true, but I guess I'm just more passionate about books that annoy me.

    @disqus_t2DAPH3Rnf:disqus I have been told that the movie is actually a lot better than the book. I'm sure I will come across it on a lazy Saturday afternoon one of these days.

  • mswas

    I'll try to post a 5-star from you next time!

  • Siege

    No worries -- I know that I'm usually funnier about books I hate. Generally, a "boy, I really liked this book" review from me is not especially interesting. Thank you for all the work you do curating the CBR5, it's much appreciated!

  • mswas

    It's my pleasure.

  • chris

    I remember liking this book when I read it. But I was 14.

  • Bedewcrock

    Exactly. As a 14 year old, I preferred the book over the movie as well.

  • Irina

    I haven't read the book but it looks like it's way more annoying than the movie, which is a totally guilty pleasure of mine. It's warm and feel-good and yes very by-the-numbers but damn it if I don't watch it every time it's on.

  • Absolutely a guilty pleasure movie. But now I know my instincts where correct to stay away from the book. Thanks Siege!

  • DeltaJuliet

    I was going to post the same thing. The movie is a total guilty pleasure. I love it (even though it makes me cry)

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