Where the Heart Is - by Billie Letts
"a story of friendship and love that showcases the goodness of people"
Novalee Nation is seventeen, seven months pregnant and on her way to California with her boyfriend, Willy Jack. She's dreaming about living in a home without wheels; he's secretly scheming to cut off a finger to land an insurance claim. When she requests one too many pit stops, Novalee finds herself stranded at a Wal-Mart in the town of Sequoyah, Oklahoma with $7.77. (Sevens are just unlucky for her.) So she sits and waits, knowing Willy Jack is gone, but not knowing what else to do. Then the magic begins. The first people she meets and the first words she hears shape her experiences for years to come.
First there is Sister Husband who mistakes her for a woman named Ruth Ann, gives her a Welcome Wagon basket and invites her to visit. Then, she meets photographer Moses Whitecotton, the blackest man she's ever met. He gives her a complimentary baby album and advice to name her baby something that will withstand all the bad times and hurt. And finally she meets Native American Benny Goodluck, a twelve year old kid helping his dad with his nursery business. He gives Novalee a buckeye tree for luck. As she meets each, she captures their image with her Polaroid camera.
Novalee, abandoned by Willy Jack, is looking at baby clothes as the store closing message broadcasts over the Wal-Mart speakers. In a panic, she runs to the Wal-Mart bathroom as she feels bile rise. After awhile she emerges to a dark store. (Apparently no motion detectors go off as she walks the dark store, but maybe store security was not so sophisticated in 1987.) And thus she spends her first night in her new home.
This book is a light read, with easy humor. The premise of making Wal-Mart a home is precious and somehow so American. It's a friendship story and a love story that showcases the goodness of people. It was probably picked as an Oprah Book Club selection becuase it shows that that not all poor, single mothers must continually have bad happen to them especially if given a supportive community. I also like the way that reading books is almost a magic wand for Novalee. She reads for self-education but self-actualization is not far behind. Novalee and those around her experience periodic set backs, but the message is clear, let go of what's bad and hold onto the good around you. In the end even a lowlife like Willy Jack has to learn this lesson.