Date Read: July 31, 2014
Source: Review copy from Netgalley
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, adult fiction
Summary (taken from Goodreads): A poignant and fierce debut novel about the relationship between a teenage daughter and her struggling single mother—from a powerful new voice in fiction.
For Ruthie Carmichael and her mother Rita, life has never been stable. Jobs are hard to find, men come and go. But when a set of unexpected circumstances strands them in Fat River, a small rural town in upstate New York, life takes a turn. Fat River becomes the first place they call home. The modest economic security they gain gives them peace and space for friends. The people of Fat River—Hank and Dotty Hanson, the elderly owners of the local hardware store being driven out of business by the new Walmart; Mel, the flawed, but kindhearted owner of the town diner where Rita finds work; and the cross-dressing Peter Pam, the novel’s voice of warmth and reason—become family. Into this quirky utopia comes Vick Ward, a smooth-talking broker who entices Rita with a subprime mortgage and urges her to buy the ramshackle house she and her daughter have been renting.
Tough and quick-witted, thirteen-year-old Ruthie—whose sardonic voice and plain-spoken observations infuse All We Had with disarming honesty and humor—never minded her hardscrabble existence as long as her mother was by her side. Through it all, the two have always been the center of one another’s lives. But when financial crisis hits, their luck takes a different turn.
All We Had offers an unflinching look at the devastating choices a mother must make to survive and is an achingly funny, heart wrenching tale about love and loss, told with humor and razor sharp vision.
Review: I went into this expecting a light read. It took some adjusting before I could get into the story, but once I did it was wonderful.
Ruth is so young and deals with so much in her life – and her mother doesn’t make things any easier. Throughout the story she was awful and manipulative, and I couldn’t bring myself to like her. I think this is why it took longer for me to grow attached to the story.
The side characters were the best – a cross-dressing waitress called “Peter Pam,” a chatty neighbor with four kids who lived next to her old teacher and watched her through binoculars, and so many more. They were original and lovable, and I found myself loving it in Fat River just as much as Ruth did.
The excerpt from one of Ruth’s papers at the end talks about little girls faced with violence, and them being blamed when they grow up to be imperfect mothers. This is something I just couldn’t get over, because I think Ruth’s mother was worse than this implies. She was not “less than perfect.” She was childish and I don’t think it can be excused that she didn’t act like a mother – Ruth did.
I liked the message. I liked the mother-daughter bond, and that they stuck together even when things weren’t perfect. The story was real and honest, and Ruth’s voice was great to read. I just had real problems with Ruth’s mother and the way she was written into the book. I kept waiting for her to turn around, to rise above the way she grew up, but that never happened – and then it was excused, like she couldn’t have done better. I’m just glad Ruth seems headed in a better direction.