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Made in the U.S.A.


Made in the U.S.A.

In Billie Letts's MADE IN THE U.S.A., two homeless siblings search for family and a life outside of Spearfish, South Dakota, after the untimely death of their caretaker. In the opening chapter, Lutie McFee and her brother Fate are living with their long-lost father's overweight ex-girlfriend, Floy Satterfield, a woman who doesn't show them much love but makes sure they are fed and have a place to live. Lutie does a lot of shoplifting while Fate spends his time watching television and reading books that are too serious for a 12-year-old to be burying his nose in. And he doesn't have any friends. They don't have much money and are barely surviving.

During a shopping excursion to Wal-Mart, Floy suffers an apparent heart attack and drops dead at the checkout counter, leaving the two children without a guardian or a safe place to stay. They could have returned to their present home they shared with Floy, but Lutie knows that social services will take them both. She is determined to save them from a fate worse than death, so she decides to take them to Las Vegas to find their missing father, thinking he may still be there and would surely take them in.

Lutie, barely 15 years old and without a driver's license, takes her little brother Fate and drives Floy's old Pontiac to Vegas, with not much pocket change to cover the gas and food they would need to get there. The trip is anything but fun, and they encounter many troubles. The two bicker all the way there, with Fate being the pessimist, reminding Lutie over and over that they don't have enough money to get to their destination.

When they finally do reach Sin City, they don't see their father. But with some street smarts, Lutie and her brother are able to survive in cheap motels or by sleeping in their car, procuring odd jobs or stealing to make ends meet. When Fate discovers what he considers to be his dream school, he tries hard to find a way to get in, despite having no guardian or permanent residence. In the meantime, he brings in extra cash by chasing golf balls on a nearby golf course, presenting his earnings to Lutie at the end of the week. Lutie, on the other hand, has met up with some shady men and is earning good money but cannot tell her brother where it's coming from. Her main focus is to get them a real apartment they can call home and register Fate in school.

It's one bad deal after another, until Lutie meets up with someone who pretends to befriend her, but is really out for the money he sees in her wallet. Lutie is beaten to a pulp and the cash is stolen, when a guardian angel who had been helping them out secretly since they arrived in Vegas comes forward to rescue Lutie and her bewildered brother. Through this man, the two finally have a chance to make it.

I thoroughly enjoyed MADE IN THE U.S.A. I fell in love with the story of Lutie and Fate, who had the bad luck to be born under circumstances that didn't give them much of a chance for a life outside of poverty. With their mother long dead and a father who was just a faded memory, Lutie learns early how to survive on the streets and has to take care of her younger brother, a boy who lives in a fantasy world that protects him from the realities of life. I admired Lutie's courage and the resourcefulness she found in order to keep Fate from being sent to social services. While she made a lot of bad choices, everything she did was in some way to keep them both alive. At first Lutie comes across as a very self-centered girl, but eventually she learns what love and family is through her brother, who loves his older sister unconditionally and will do anything for her.

MADE IN THE U.S.A. is a feel-good type of story, though it does take place in the grittier parts of Las Vegas. Their lives are not pretty, but rest assured, they do have a happy ending. It just takes a long time to get there.

Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton on January 7, 2011

Made in the U.S.A.
by Billie Letts

  • Publication Date: May 4, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 044658245X
  • ISBN-13: 9780446582452