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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Billie Letts - made in the USA

review by Ro Bennett

Lutie McFee's history has taught her to avoid 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 croaks 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.

This is another page turner from Billie Letts, I got drawn into the story and became really involved in their lives as the situation unfolded. I felt worried for them - my heart sank as, living rough in the car, moving from place to place and desperate for money for food, Lutie was lured into potentially dangerous situations, vulnerable to the pimps, crooks and others ready to exploit young girls and boys. I was anxious for her young brother Fate who roamed the streets during the day, spending as much time as he could in the library or trying to earn money, as he was desperate to go to school. At times he was left alone in the car in dodgy neighbourhoods at night while Lutie worked in badly paid dead end jobs or went drinking. I couldn’t see how there could be a hopeful resolution to their problems as they searched for their father.

Lutie sometimes made unwise decisions and sometimes she behaved selfishly and thoughtlessly - she was only fifteen.  Consequently the children found themselves in some pretty horrific situations and sadly none of them are so far fetched as to be unbelievable. You could see how easily children like Lutie and Fate from dysfunctional or uncaring families could find themselves in these situations.  It was heartbreaking to watch their hope and optimism turn to despair and disillusionment, anxiety and fear each time they were faced with the reality of their situation.

However it wasn’t unremittingly grim - there are also lots of twists and turns and unexpected kindnesses from caring, sincere and helpful people, which balance it out and restore ones faith in humanity and gives hope to the reader that a better future for them both might just be possible.

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