July 3, 2008

Made in the U.S.A.

Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts
Contemporary Fiction
2008 Grand Central Publishing
Finished on 6/29/08
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Fate sometimes thought that God was looking out for him and Lutie. The notes left for them, and the food they found on the hood of the car and in the library. All of that came from someone. And if it didn't come from God, then maybe Fate's mother was watching over them or maybe even Floy. But he felt pretty certain that it wasn't his daddy because he didn't figure Jim McFee had the status of an angel.

Product Description

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 attachments...to 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.

I had such high hopes for this new release by Billie Letts. I loved all three of her previous books (The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, Where the Heart Is and Shoot the Moon), each peopled with quirky memorable characters and situations. Unfortunately, Letts fails to deliver with Made in the U.S.A., which was nothing but a lot of simplistic plotting and one-dimensional characters. And, if the thin (and ultimately sappy) storyline wasn't bad enough, the depressing situations Lutie brought upon herself (shoplifting, fake ids, drugs, prostitution and pornography) were almost enough to make me give up on the book before I'd reached the halfway mark. I desperately wanted to root for these pathetic, homeless runaways, but found it more and more difficult to work up any sympathy. The only reason I finished was to see how it all turned out. I needn't have bothered, as it was pretty much how I guessed.

Early reviews have claimed Made In the U.S.A. is a heartbreaking, yet uplifting story. Maybe I have a cold heart, but I didn't feel anything other than annoyance and a sense of deep disappointment in this mediocre effort by Letts, especially in view of her previous literary accomplishments.


  1. Lesley,

    You validated what I thought. I quit reading after 50 or 75 pages because I just didn't care about the kids. This book didn't live up to my expectations, either. Like you, I was disappointed.

  2. Les,

    I felt the same way as you about this book! I was so disappointed. I did like the characters - especially the young boy. However, the situations the girl got herself into and some of the things she did just upset me. If they had been in another book, I might have dealt with it. But not in a book by Letts. It just seemed alien to her way of writing - the ugliness of it all. I just didn't expect a book like this from her for some reason.

    Linda in VA

  3. Agreed...she's usually a sure thing, and I couldn't make it past the first 50 pages. I thought it might have been my frame of mind that day, but then I could never come back to it.

  4. Hmmm ... I've never read anything by her and judging by its description and your reaction I likely will not be starting with this one. Sorry it was such a disappointment to you.

    Hope you're having a happy 4th!

  5. Oh dear and I was looking forward to her latest. Think I'll just go and delete my request from the library.

    I have enjoyed all her others.

  6. I absolutely LOVED her first two books! The third was a disappointment to me....now I see this one is not going to be good either. Bummer!!!!!

    I just started reading The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. I needed a good easy read with likeable characters. I love it so far!

  7. Bummer! I'd forgotten she has a new one, and I think I'll go back to forgetting. lol

  8. Lesa - I didn't care about the young girl, but Fate tugged at my heartstrings. Maybe it was his passion for learning. Have you read any of her others?

    Linda - Boy, from the sounds of it, everyone's been disappointed with this book. Like you, though, I really liked the young boy. But his sister continued to get into trouble and I just couldn't feel any sympathy for her at all. You said exactly what I was trying to say. There's a lot of ugliness in this book. Too bad.

    Jill - Wow. I guess I should've given up at the 50 page mark, too. Both you and Lesa were smarter than me and didn't waste your time on this one.

    Thanks for commenting. I'm enjoying your blog!

    Lesley - If you only read one book by Letts, I highly recommend The Honk and Holler Opening Soon. It's got a great cast of characters.

    We had a lovely, albeit cool, 4th. Strange weather this summer!

    Elizabeth - I was really looking forward to it, too. Have a fun time in Victoria!

    Laura - I loved them, too. The third was good, but not nearly as good as the first two. This one isn't even in the same league!

    I have The Friday Night Knitting Club in my stacks, thanks to my wonderful mom who brought me over a dozen books last week. I need to move it to my nightstand so I get to it quickly. Glad to hear you're enjoying it.

    Andi - I would've forgotten, too, if I hadn't seen it on the new release shelf at work. I got sucked in by the cover, as well as the author's reputation. Sigh.

  9. Shoot! I was excited about a new one by Letts. I read her first two, but never saw Shoot the Moon. I think I will read that one and pass on Made in the USA. With that many bad reviews I am not so tempted to read it. There are too many other books to read!

  10. Kim - Shoot the Moon is quite good. I forgot to link to my blog entry, so if you're interested, you can read that review here.

    Thanks for visiting!

  11. Alright! Thank you very much...off the shelf it comes. Makes me feel a bit better that I won this in a giveaway YEARS ago so am not losing any money. :)


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