Like many of the books this year that I've read, this would not have been one that I would have thought about reading unless I was doing the challenge. However, I'm happy I did. The story - although filled with some very sobering and difficult situations - somehow keeps the focus on the positive elements of life. Many of the characters face struggles - either ones due to poor choices they have made or ones that have been thrust upon them - yet plod forward and persevere.
As the main character, Novalee Nation, says, "...Our lives can change with every breath we take...Let go of what's gone....and hold on...to what [you've] got....We've all got meanness in us...but...we have some good in us, too. And the only thing worth living for is the good. That's why we've got to make sure we pass it on."
Where the Heart Is begins with the story about Novalee, a seventeen-year-old girl who is seven months pregnant who was heading for California with her boyfriend, Willy Jack. He drops her off at the Wal-Mart in Oklahoma to use the restroom, and continues on the journey without her.
So, Novalee finds herself stranded at the Wal-Mart with just $7.77 in change. Somehow she manages to live in the store and not be discovered for a couple months.
It is during this time that people come into Novalee's life; and they become her true friends and new family. These people support Novalee and her already strong spirit. They are down-to-earth, deeply caring people who are willing to help a homeless, jobless girl.
From a kind, generous older lady named Sister Thelma Husband to eccentric librarian named Forney Hull who loves Novalee more than she loves herself, they are all there to support Novalee.
About two months after her arrival in Oklahoma, she has her baby one night at the store. Her friend, Forney, happens to see her there, breaks the window of the store, and helps deliver the baby. Needless to say, she receives much publicity and financial support.
When she's in the hospital, her mother (who abandoned her when she was a young girl), shows up and convinces Novalee that they will begin their life over. Novalee trusts her mother, and gives her all the money she received hoping that her mother follows through on the promise to get a home where they all can live...a place that Novalee has dreamed of her whole life.
Novalee has dreamed her whole life of living in a house since she has always lived on a home on wheels. She keeps a journal full of magazine pictures of houses; and she looks through them, she imagines her dream house and how it is furnished. Truly, she wants to make sure that her baby grows up in the best environment that she can create.
Of course, the mother simply takes the money and disappears again, leaving Novalee with no money and no place to live. Sister Thelma just happens to show up and offers to let Novalee and her baby live with her husband and her in their trailer home.
Soon, Novalee takes charge of her future by working and bringing in money to support herself and daughter. Through her friendship with Moses Whitecotton, she develops skills in photography. She builds on the information he shares with her by reading many books and magazines from the library where Forney works. She visits photography exhibitions and takes many photographs to build her skills.
Although she is not educated when she arrives in Oklahoma, by the end of the story she is enrolled in college and is supporting herself through her photography skills.
Where the Heart Is also follows Willy Jack's life and the string of bad decisions he makes. His journey is a sharp and negative contrast to Novalee's life, filled with alcohol, prison time, failed singing career, and an encounter with a train that amputates both his legs. In the end, his journey tries to lead him back to Novalee to apologize to her and let her know that he lied about something that meant a lot to her.
She ends up finding out about Willy Jack by reading a newspaper article; and - in her compassionate and quiet, unassuming manner - meets him at a hospital where he was transported to after being a victim of a robbery. He talks about lies and their impact one one's life.
As Willy Jack said, "Why does anyone lie? 'Cause we're scared or crazy, maybe just 'cause we're mean. I guess there's a million reasons to lie, and I might've told that many....but none like that. I guess there's always that one lie we never get over....Maybe you never told a lie so big it can eat away a part of you. But if you ever do...and if you get lucky...you might get a a chance to set it right. Just one chance to change it. Then it's gone. And it never comes again."
His apology to her - and what he said about lying - makes Novalee reconsider what she said to a dear friend who she loved, but said she didn't care for him.
Towards the end of the story, Novalee follows through on where her heart is; and the book finishes on a positive note which I liked. After all the early poor decisions, hard work, and determination to build a respectable life - Novalee succeeds. She may not be the richest and most powerful person in her mid-20s, but within her world she attained much more than she expected, positively impacted the lives of many people, and realized dreams that she would never have imagined when she was 17 years old.
Home gives you something no other place can...
home is where your history begins.