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Where the Heart Is
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Readers immersed in the offbeat world of Letts's lively, affecting first novel will forgive its occasional forced quirkiness. For 17-year-old Novalee Nation, seven months pregnant, the phrase ``home is where your history begins'' has a special meaning. Leaving behind a trail of foster homes in Tennessee trailer parks to live in a real house with her boyfriend, Willy Jack Pickens, Novalee instead finds herself abandoned in front of a Wal-Mart in Sequoyah, Okla. With nowhere to turn, she cleverly conceals herself within the store, keeping careful accounts until giving birth to the ``Wal-Mart baby'' turns her into a local celebrity. Happily, the community reaches out to Novalee and baby Americus. Sequoyah's one-woman welcoming committee, Sister Husband, takes them in; cultured librarian Forney Hull takes a shine to them; photographer Moses Whitecotton encourages Novalee's raw talent for photography by teaching her all he knows; Lexie Coop, who has a huge appetite for food, diet fads and the wrong men, befriends her; and legendary Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton gives her a job. Meanwhile, Willy Jack, an aspiring musician, gets a shot at the big time before hitting bottom and realizing what he's left behind. Letts's wacky characters are depicted with humor and hope, as well as an earnestness that rises above the story's uneven conceits, resulting in a heartfelt and gratifying read. Film rights sold to 20th Century Fox. (July)

YA‘Novalee Nation, 17 and pregnant, finds herself stranded outside a Wal-Mart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma, with $7.77 in her pocket and no one to turn to for help. This is an unlikely beginning for a humorous and hopeful novel, but that is just what this is. As she sits outside the store taking stock of her situation, plucky Novalee meets several of the town's more unusual inhabitants: Sister Husband, who presents her with a shop-worn welcome-wagon basket; black photographer Moses Whitecotton, who conveys to her the importance of a name for her unborn child; and Indian Benny Goodluck, who gives her a buckeye tree for good luck. These and other Sequoyah citizens rally around Novalee when she has her baby on the floor of Wal-Mart, and form the basis for this most enjoyable novel.‘Pamela B. Rearden, Centreville Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA

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