by Billie Letts
Ah, another Oprah recommendation that I loved. Does this mean I am becoming an Oprah fan, or she just has a staff competent at choosing good books? Hoping it’s the latter.
Billie Letts has written a book which reads quickly, and with depth. This is the story of a pregnant 17-year old Novalee Nation, dumped by her boyfriend in a Walmart parking lot, and the life she creates thanks to the kindness of strangers. What could be a sad story about poverty, desperation and the futility of life instead becomes a story about how family is not necessarily blood. Novalee had no one, but her heart was big and her spirit resilient. She crosses paths with people who change her world and become her foundation. Are they angels? Mentors? Just good hearted people? In fact, they are like Novalee; seeking the best of people and the world. Reaching out to touch others and complete their own lives through meaningful relationships.
We watch this 17 year old grow into a competent mother, and her future breaks a cycle. She loves completely, takes measured steps to ensure a better future, and allows herself to feel love and loved.
Perhaps this book might seem sappy to some; I certainly could not imagine the typical male reading this one. For me, a child from a past with a similar sense of loneliness and lack of family, “Where the Heart is” struck a familiar chord. I realized the reason I could relate so closely with Novalee was that I also had been touched by meaningful people who influenced my present.
I remember fondly my 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Rechten. She saw in me a student who came from a dysfunctional home with a mom who was uninvolved. I was the student Mrs. Rechten took book shopping, invited into her home for paid babysitting jobs, kept in contact with me when I left that school. She encouraged me to pursue college despite the fact both parents thought college unnecessary for a girl – remember, this was early 1980s, not 1880s. College not necessary because I was a girl???
As an adult I learned from my beloved Uncle and Aunt in Rhode Island that one of the reasons I was welcomed in their home for a month in the summer was they knew what my mom was like, and wanted to give me more. I had no idea as a child that their love served a purpose. I had time to see what a real family was like, and that people cared. My best childhood memories came from their family. Hearing them speak about my childhood when I was in my 40s made me both sad and happy. It is hard to realize you were “that” kid, the one from a screwed up home. It was wonderful to know the depth of their love.
I feel I have broken the circle. My mom was married and divorced three times, and chose husbands over children. By her death she had no relationship with her three surviving kids. It took a long time for me to get over my anger at her. Hopefully, my marriage of 23+ years, my dedication to my family and my unconditional love of my children show a broken pattern.
Wow – book review much??? I think this one hit home and I really enjoyed my time in Novalee’s world.