“Made in the USA” by Billie Letts

  A funny thing happens to me when I get caught up in a really good story. I tend to lose touch with reality. After putting the book down (which was hard to do!) I found myself worrying about Lutie and Fate, two orphaned children fighting to survive in the vast wasteland of lost souls known as Las Vegas. 

Their misfortunes begin one grim day at Wal-Mart where their estranged father’s 300-lb girlfriend, and their guardian, plummets to her death in the checkout aisle. What a horrible place to check out of life! That’s even worse than Elvis’ death on the throne…but I digress. Unwilling to become a ward of the state, rebellious Lutie hits the road with her encyclopedia-reading kid brother in their dead guardian’s rusted-out Pontiac to find their father in Las Vegas. Their series of unfortunate events rapidly unfolds after Lutie picks up a hitchhiker with a sick fascination with Hannibal Lector. Things go from bad to worse after Lutie decides to sacrifice her innocence and pride to keep her brother off the streets. Just when she saves enough money to pay for a shabby apartment in a decent school district, a band of thugs robs her blind and beats her to a bloody pulp.

OK so you’re probably thinking that reading this book is just as  gut wrenching as watching a puppy get kicked in the ribs, but trust me – it gets better! After the robbery, the orphans’ mysterious protector, Juan Vargas, swoops in and nurses her back to health. He then transports the kids to his family homestead in rural Oklahoma to take them away from the brutal city streets and possibly give them a shot at a real future.

Living with Juan’s family of circus performers, Fate discovers a world of wonder and happiness as he spends his days catching lighting bugs in mason jars and fishing with his new best friend. But according to Lutie, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Unable to accept help from Juan’s nurturing mother, Lutie makes it her mission to return to Las Vegas and make it on her own.

Much like her bestselling hit “Where the Heart Is,” this heartwarming tale explores the depths of family ties, the agony of unexpected loss and the resilience of the human spirit. I recommend this book to anyone who likes feisty female protagonists and emotionally rewarding endings.