Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts
I loved Letts' previous novels, Where the Heart Is and Shoot the Moon, so when I saw this audiobook had come in, I snapped it up, knowing I was going to be on the road a lot this week.
While 15-year-old Lutie and her 11-year-old brother, Fate, are shopping/shoplifting at the local Wal-Mart, their caretaker Floy (their father's ex-girlfriend) drops dead in the checkout line, setting up the rest of the story as Lutie and Fate flee from sleepy Spearfish, S.D. for parts unknown with no adults, little money, and a lot of obstacles.
This isn't a happy-happy book. Throughout most of the book, Lutie is tremendously unlikeable, and yet she is so vulnerable and having to make such hard choices, you can't help but root for her. Fate, though, was my favorite character - an 35-year-old trapped in an 11-year-old body, Fate is a genius, wise beyond his years, and fiercely loyal to his older sister.
This book relies on coincidences and eventually faith in other humans to pull it from the dark places Letts leads the readers to, but ultimately ends on an inspiring note. In some ways, this reminded me of Homecoming and Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt, where teens are forced to make their way in the world, scrapping for food, transportation and attention, though this book takes a much darker turn than those YA novels from my youth.
Though I missed the strong friendship and "sense of place" present in Where the Heart Is, I still thought this was a tremendous piece of storytelling. Recommended!
Note: I listened to the audio version, narrated by Cassandra Morris. I was BLOWN AWAY by the talent of Morris - she truly sounded like a 15-year-old and an 11-year-old, and her diction, pace and tone were spectacular. I think my enjoyment of the book was definitely enhanced by having it TOLD to me, rather than reading it myself. If you have the chance, listen to this title instead of reading!