Made in the U.S.A. Review
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Nine out of ten times, when I ask someone if they’ve ever read anything by Billie Letts, I hear, “Isn’t she the one who wrote the book about the girl who had a baby in Wal-Mart?” Now the author of the award-winning Where the Heart Is returns with her newest book—and it’s a winner.

Made in the U.S.A. is the story of 15-year-old Lutie McFee and her little brother, Fate. Abandoned by their father, the children are left with their dad’s girlfriend, Floy, who drops dead on them while they’re shopping (or shoplifting) in Wal-Mart. Afraid of being taken into custody by Child Services, the children take Floy’s car and take off to Las Vegas to find their father. They’re followed by a mysterious man who’s watching their every move.

If you’re thinking that Made in the U.S.A. is a light-hearted tale, where these kids are taken in by a rich family and live happily ever after, you’d be wrong. If you’re familiar with Billie Letts’s other books (Where the Heart Is, Shoot the Moon, The Honk and Holler Opening Soon), you know that this journey to find a place to call home isn’t going to be an easy one. Instead, the story is complex and harsh, as the children fall victim to the bad, the ugly, and the perverted.

  
 
Lutie is a teenage girl who is stuck with the responsibility of caring for her younger brother when she can barely care for herself. She’s angry, bitter, and resentful, and she’s constantly faced with tough choices to ensure their survival. Her brother Fate, while amazingly smart and practical for his age (and sometimes just too happy, given his situation), still maintains a child’s innocence. He looks only to settle down, make friends, and go to school, but he shares his sister’s worries. In fact, we’re often left to wonder who is caring for whom.

The story stretches a little thin at times, especially since the law never gets involved where these kids are concerned. The ending also makes me wonder if the author took the easy way out. In reality, the same story wouldn’t have played out the way Letts wrote it, but this is a work of fiction, and I found that the endearing characters overruled the flaws.

Made in the U.S.A. is a story of love, heartbreak, disappointment, and survival by one of my favorite contemporary storytellers. Don’t miss it.

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