by annie weatherwax
Many of the books I read and review are given to me, and I’m grateful for the chance to experience such a wide variety of material. I’m not complaining. But there is something wonderful about selecting a book, anticipating the story and immersing yourself in the novel. For Christmas a friend gave me a B&N gift card and I spent HOURS perusing the online store and was like a kid picking up, and putting back, the new toy until I found exactly the ones I wanted.
The first of my treasures I chose is “all we had” by annie weatherwax and, to be completely honest, I selected it because I was entranced by the cover. Yup, I judged this book by its cover and I’m so glad I did.
This is a story about a transient, underemployed, kindhearted mother Rita and her daughter, 13 year old Ruthie. Rita has led a hard life becoming a mom at 16 and forced to use sex as a tool of power to find men willing to take them in and provide shelter and food. This lifestyle is unimaginable to me, but Weatherwax managed to pen the character in such a way that she seems like a tragic human caught in a terrible situation doing what she has to in order to survive. She also understood the circle of poverty which can trap a person and she was determined to ensure her daughter got into an Ivy League school and made a better life for herself. Commendable especially as a 29 year old having to resort to using, and being used, by men.
Mom and daughter hit the road in a barely drive-able car and head from California to Boston, home of many top colleges. Despite the fact Ruthie is only 13, Rita is working toward the future and wants her daughter educated in the best schools and nearer to her future freedom from poverty.
…..and then things take a turn for the unexpected.
The women end up at a diner in a dying town in New York state and a cast of characters become the family they never had before. Rita ends up waitressing, Ruthie works part time as a dishwasher and we get to watch a life build as money is made, housing is secured and friendships blossom.
I really loved the time in the diner. Weatherwax fleshed out each character, and as a reader, I was impressed with her ability to hook me despite my own initial misgivings. One of the waitresses is transgender and not someone I’ve ever experienced in my own life but by the end of the book, Peter Pam was my favorite. I felt an attachment I wouldn’t have thought possible and was invested in her character.
And like many great novels, there is more to the story than just the adventures of a mom and daughter. Weatherwax was writing a fictionalized account of what much of America suffered during the sub-prime mortgage crisis in our country. People wanting to create their own American dream and instead ending up worse off than before. Dreaming of home ownership but instead becoming caught even further in a cycle of poverty. Besides the main characters, this is represented throughout the novel as factories move, diners disappear, neighbors going from frequent Walmart truck deliveries to destitution and, of course, Walmart encroaching on mom & pops which used to be a way of life.
I read this book in 2 days and had to force myself at 3am to put it down. I hope Weatherwax writes many more books. She is stellar.
For the US Book Reading Challenge – this was set in New York.