Annie Weatherwax created a curious world when she wrote the story of Ruthie and Rita Carmichael in All We Had. I’m going to start by saying I was absolutely sure Ruthie is the daughter in the story, but I just looked up the mother’s name and their last name. That being said, knowing the names aren’t necessary to enjoying the story, even in it’s quirky moments.
When the story begins, it is 2005 and Ruthie is twelve. That’s what the words on the page say. But some of the descriptions made me think of earlier years, the mid-1990s maybe. I kept having to remind myself that it was later than 2005 and that she starts the story as a pre-teen. Keeping time is tricky with the story. It’s a fairly novel, as novels go, but it manages to cover 2005, age 12 to sometime after Ruthie took a really long time to finish high school and apply to Harvard. Time skips are central to the story.
Which would be fine but it’s sometimes hard to tell that Ruthie is aging. Because of the background Weatherwax gave her; a mostly homeless girl who’d seen her mother raped and slept in the street among other, worse things, Ruthie is essentially a grownup in a child’s body when the story starts. And she’s the same when the story ends. It’s clear that Rita is her best friend, more than mother-daughter traditional relationship, but she’s starting high school on page, being driven around by her mother, and she’s a junior on the next page, still falling asleep while her mother drives. It’s just… a stretch sometimes.
The best part of the story, though, is the realness of it.
There is no doubt in my mind that mothers and daughters in America have gone through this; a rootless existence that moves from one bad situation to the next never really knowing a settled life and, when the chance for one comes, having it ripped out from under them through absolutely no fault of their own. For that reason, more than any other, this book is important to read. It’s believable, it’s real, and it will open the eyes of anyone who chances it and tries it.
(I received a copy of All We Had through NetGalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own. My review is cross-posted at Goodreads, NetGalley, and on my blog.)