All We Had: A Novel, by Annie Weatherwax*****

All We HadThis quirky, funny, poignant story had me from hello. How often have you read a really strong mother-daughter novel? The legendary Marge Piercy brought some our way, and of course Amy Tan. Does Annie Weatherwax deserve a place in such auspicious company? I think she does.
Ruth and her mother have nobody and nothing, apart from each other and whatever they can throw in the car, and most of that stuff might not actually belong to them. They sleep together on whatever flat surface is available, sometimes a nasty mattress in an unfinished basement, but they call no place home.
Sometimes it seems more that Ruth is raising her mother than the other way ‘round, and so the fur flies when her mother suddenly decides to exert authority.
Does this sound like anyone you have known? It rings true to me. I’ve known people like this, both professionally and in my personal life. A friend in social work once told me that this “type” of kid keeps it together until she is in her mid-20s and then falls apart, because she didn’t get to scream and act out as an adolescent. At least in developed Western societies, the adolescent stage is necessary to development; if a kid can’t do it at the socially acceptable time of life that most people do, she’ll do it later.
And the fact that I found myself thinking such things, making such predictions for a fictional character, proves exactly how real Ruthie and her mother became to me as I gorged on the literary feast Weatherwax has cooked up. I was notified by Net Galley that since the book was coming out August 5, it would be nice to have my review run in early August, just before its release, and so I set the galley aside when I hit 60 percent. Later, I told myself. You can read it later.
I couldn’t stand it. I have over 100 unread books, most of them used, some of them galleys with a sell-by date on them, but I dove back in mid-July, like a dieter on a chocolate binge. I’ll run this review on my blog in July and then run it again in August, because All We Had is not just any story. It’s the story that couldn’t wait.
Rejoining mother and daughter, then, we head westward. Mom is determined that come what may, Ruthie will go to college, and she has her eye on the Ivy League schools. No matter how many boyfriends she takes up with, moves Ruthie and herself in with, and then books it (sometimes with the guy’s car and almost always with some of his money), their journey continues toward New England.
That is, until they come to Fat River, Ohio, a place that proves exceptional. It is here that Ruthie becomes fast friends with Peter Pam, the transvestite waitress at the local diner. People are different here in Fat River. Nobody has a lot of money, but there is such character here, a sense of community surpassing anything they had ever believed was possible for people like themselves, and the cynical, wise-cracking, foul-mouthed Ruthie and her mom find their defenses breaking down, a bit at a time, as the town takes its hold on their hearts.
What happens from there you will have to learn by yourself. I couldn’t tear myself away. I don’t know whether this book will be a best seller, but I do know that I would have been the poorer for not having read it.
Highly recommended!

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