Where the Heart Is (1995)

by Billie Letts

It may seem like a contradiction for a website devoted to finding positive fiction to criticize a book as too syrupy. That strangers would rescue you when you’re most down and out is a heartwarming thought. Whether it makes for a believable story is another matter.

At the start of Where the Heart Is, Novalee Nation, a pregnant 17-year-old, is abandoned by the baby’s father in a WalMart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma, while they’re driving west to California. With nowhere to go and no money, she starts living in the WalMart, managing to hide from detection at night. Her secret gets out after she give birth, and she’s flooded with cards and donations from well-wishers. Sam Walton himself visits and offers Novalee a job. Several of the locals become her steadfast friends. “Sister” Husband, the town’s Welcome Wagon greeter, give Novalee and her baby, Americus, a home. Forney Hull, caretaker of his alcoholic sister, the town librarian, and of the library, becomes her best friend and falls in love with her. Photographer Moses Whitecotton teaches Novalee his trade. In short order, Novalee has a family, a home, a village, and a calling.

Some bad things also happen in Where the Heart Is, but they seem not so much tests as necessities to balance the warm and fuzzy.

Author Letts leaves Sequoyah now and then to update readers on the Americus’s father, Willy Jack Pickens. What those chapters contribute to the story is unclear, except to show Novalee’s ability to forgive and care when she finds out that Willy Jack’s luck has been as bad as hers was good.

Where the Heart Is was an Oprah’s Book Club selection and was made into a 2000 film of the same name.


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