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<i>Made in the U.S.A.</i> is made for novel lovers

When you were a teenager and living under your parents' medieval rules, you probably couldn't wait to grow up, get an apartment, and have a life of your own.

Once you grew up, got an apartment, and had a life of your own, you realized that things weren't really much different. You still had certain responsibilities, you had to do the same chores (for yourself, this time) and, aside from the bumps and potholes you learned from, you were still the same you.

But what if life shoved you out of the nest before you were ready? In the new novel Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts, two kids strike out on their own. If they don't, they might not be able to stay together.

Lutie McFee had dreams once but they didn't matter any more. There was a time when she thought she might be an Olympic gymnast. She was good enough. Even her coach said so.

But that was all before the totally untrue rumor that got her kicked off the team and made her classmates whisper in the hallways. That was before Lutie's father left Lutie and her brother, Fate, in the care of Floy, his overweight, wheezing girlfriend. It was before Floy dropped dead in checkout aisle 3 at Wal-Mart.

And it was before 15-year-old Lutie packed up everything she owned in a suitcase, pulled together all the change she could find, made Fate choose his favorite books, put everything in the trunk of Floy's beat-up Pontiac, and left Spearfish, South Dakota with Fate in the passenger seat. They were headed for Las Vegas, and the last-known address of their alcoholic father.

But if getting to Vegas without much money was hard, living there was harder. Jobs were impossible to find for a 15-year-old. Apartments were expensive and required hundreds of dollars in deposits. Finding enough to eat was a big concern, and the threat of getting caught -- and separated -- was always present.

There was one good thing, though: Lutie and Fate had a benefactor. Someone was watching out for them, directing them to safety, leaving small gifts of food. The guardian angel seemed to want to protect the kids from harm. But who was saving whom?

I liked this novel, but I didn't. On one hand, it seemed that two or three novels were squished into one here, and Made in the U.S.A. kept getting more and more outrageous. But then, it's a novel, right? And novels don't always have to make sense.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved Lutie, and I loved the way that author Billie Letts gave Lutie a faux-brave, brassy, brash, scared-little-girl countenance. I loved Fate and his sixth-grade-old-man personality. And while yes, this story was a little far-fetched, I admittedly never knew where it was going next. That surely kept me reading.

If you're in need of a good vacation book and you don't mind some slightly outlandish plot twists, grab this book and enjoy. Made in the U.S.A. is made for novel lovers.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of the Detroit Lakes Newspapers book review column, "The Bookworm Sez." Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,000 books.