This Billie Letts novel found a place in my heart right from the first. The main character, a young girl named Novalee Nation, had to grow up a lot faster than an average 18-year old.
It’s a story of courage and bravery, as young Novalee, pregnant at 17, finds herself abandoned by her not-so-sweet to begin with boyfriend at a Wal-Mart. Through pure luck and circumstance, Novalee makes friends who love her, and help her as she struggles to raise her daughter with no money, no security, and endless superstitions clouding her mind.
She finds strength where few people would be able to, ventures into a world where many would say she didn’t belong. All throughout the novel, throughout Novalee’s story, we see that her guiding light, her beacon of light, is her daughter, Americus.
This is a story of motherhood, of a young girl learning what it is to face the hardest, yet most rewarding challenge that life can throw your way. It’s a story that many of us might not be able to relate to – or so we may think. After all, we’re not pregnant girls with a Tennessee accent, stuck in rural Oklahoma, but if you delve a little deeper, you’ll see that Novalee’s journey from impressionable, scared, vulnerable and naive to confident, strong, focused and loving, is what we’re all trying to achieve in life.
An interesting thing about the novel: Author Billie Letts uses wonderful Oklahoman names, names that carry their own images, their own rhythms – Whitecotten, Nation, Goodluck, Husband. She uses Wal-Mart as a central theme in the novel because most small towns have central meeting places, social centers, of sorts. Her book includes a variety of cultures.
We hear so much about America’s urban areas and the various ethnic communities in them – the great melting pot. In this book, we are taught of the rural middle’s cultural diversity.
And why Novalee? Why an uneducated, pregnant, teenage girl as the main character? Oklahoma has a high rate of teenage pregnancy. As a result, there are many mothers, single, recently divorced, or never married. They often hold marginal jobs as waitresses, maids, etc. They are poor and live hard lives, often victimized by alcoholic, redneck, small town he-men. This book is dedicated to them. It is dedicated to the strong.
The simple words convey a heartfelt story, one that Billie Letts conveys in the most open-hearted way. There is no arrogance in this tale, no worries of whether this is embarrassing or not cool enough, or anything of the sort. This book points towards the same thing on every page:
Where the Heart Is.