Friday, August 15, 2008

Review: Made in the U.S.A.

Summary: The bestselling author of WHERE THE HEART IS returns with a heartrending tale of two children in search of a place to call home.

Lutie McFee's history has taught her to avoid people, to places, and to almost everything. With her mother long dead and her father long gone to find his fortune in Las Vegas, 15-year-old Lutie lives in the god-forsaken town of Spearfish, South Dakota with her twelve-year-old brother, Fate, and Floy Satterfield, the 300-pound ex-girlfriend of her father. While Lutie shoplifts for kicks, Fate spends most of his time reading, watching weird TV shows and worrying about global warming and the endangerment of pandas. As if their life is not dismal enough, one day, while shopping in their local Wal-Mart, Floy keels over and the two motherless kids are suddenly faced with the choice of becoming wards of the state or hightailing it out of town in Floy's old Pontiac. Choosing the latter, they head off to Las Vegas in search of a father who has no known address, no phone number and, clearly, no interest in the kids he left behind.

MADE IN THE U.S.A. is the alternately heartbreaking and life-affirming story of two gutsy children who must discover how cruel, unfair and frightening the world is before they come to a place they can finally call home. -- Grand Central Publishing

I have had MADE IN THE U.S.A. by Billie Letts sitting in my TBR pile for way too long. I was very excited when I received it because I had read Ms. Letts' other books and enjoyed them, especially the Oprah Book Club selection WHERE THE HEART IS. I'm glad that I finally got around to reading it because MADE IN THE U.S.A. was a very enjoyable book.

Based on the beginning of MADE IN THE U.S.A. -- when the woman dropped dead in the checkout lane at Wal-mart, I thought the book was going to be a light, fun read (you're probably thinking I pretty sick at this point, but I could totally see something like that happening while I'm in line at my local Wal-mart.) Not to say that it didn't have some humor woven into the pages, but I was really amazed by how depressing parts of this story were.

When Floy, the unofficial guardian of fifteen year old Lutie and eleven year old Fate, unexpectantly dies, the children decide that they have to flee the scene or they will be placed in a foster home. They take Floy's car and head to Las Vegas in search of their long-lost (alcoholic) father. It's evident that the children are in way over their heads -- they have very little money and Lutie doesn't even know how to drive a car. It's only a matter of time until things start going very wrong.

Often times throughout the novel, I found it difficult to like Lutie -- she was very rough; however, I loved her younger, nerdy brother Fate -- he was so darn adorable. I understand that both children had been faced with very unfortunate lives and were desperately looking for love, but how they handled their situation was as different as night and day. What happened to both kids broke my heart; but when Lutie kept trying to find ways to support herself and her brother (including working as a hotel maid and acting in adult movies), I just wanted to cry -- it was so desperate and so pitiful.

When it looked like things couldn't get any worse, a "guardian angel" enters the picture. Juan Vargas, a mysterious yet kind-hearted character, takes the kids away from Las Vegas to his home in Oklahoma. I definitely enjoyed the book more from the time that Juan, Lutie and Fate arrived in Oklahoma -- this part of the story seemed more like a Billie Letts' novel to me.

The children learn that Juan was a famous acrobat in the circus who had a falling-out with his father. While Juan took the children to his home so Lutie could heal from her physical injuries, there was a lot more "healing" going on than just the broken bones and bruises. I don't want to give too much away, but it's safe to say that it's a happy ending for everyone. Juan eventually reconciles with his father, Fate gets his first real friend, and Lutie discovers a new passion!

The characters in Oklahoma are quirky, especially since they are circus people; but they are all interesting and likeable. I have to admit that there were many times when I suspended reality while reading this book, and that might bother some people. For me, I didn't think about whether things were possible or not. I just read MADE IN THE U.S.A. as a way to escape and enjoy a good story with a happy ending!


Cheryl said...

I have been wanting to read this book for a while. I will have to check it out soon

Anna said...

I really liked WHERE THE HEART IS. I never heard of this book until your review, but I'm going to check it out.

--Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

Ti said...

Excellent review. The cover of this book caught my eye initially. I know what you mean about not thinking too much about reality when reading a book. Sometimes you just read to be entertained.