5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. To be published August 5, 2014. Scribner.
Ruth starts her story in June 2005 when she was thirteen years old. At that time, she and her extremely beautiful mother Rita were living with Phil, another of her mother’s many boyfriends. Times were tough, and Rita’s many low-paying jobs were never enough to keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. At a young age, Ruth learned to eat out of trashcans, steal food, endure hunger pangs and sleep in their ratty old car. She’d learned to know her mother’s many moods, including the ones she used to entice men so they could have a place to live. Though their lives had always been rough, love kept them close.
Deciding to make a new life for themselves they robbed Phil and took off traveling as far as their money would take them, landing in a small town called Fat River where, for the first time in their lives, they found love and acceptance. Mel, the friendly owner of the only gas station and restaurant in town, gave Rita a job waitressing and a place to live while Ruth went to school and worked as a dishwasher. Peter Pam, his cross-dressing waitress nephew, became her best friend and voice of reason.
Within a few months, they had enough saved to rent a house. Soon a smooth-talking salesman named Vick Ward convinced Rita she had good credit and could own her own home, so she signed his paperwork. That was the beginning of the end for them, as the economy soon took a turn for the worse. Local businesses began to fold, waitressing slowed, and they couldn’t keep up with the mortgage. Soon, Rita and Ruth found themselves facing another crisis in their lives. With time running out, Rita makes the only decision she can to ensure their survival. Unfortunately, it turns out not to be one of her wisest choices, which leaves her to make an even costlier decision that will cost more than they’d ever lost in their lives.
“All we had” is a beautifully written, honest, funny, sad, heart-breaking, poignant novel of what can happen when someone has to continually live at the end of their rope and what they have to do to survive. The question “what should you do when you’re at the end of your rope?” followed by the answer “tie a knot and keep hanging on” is Ruth and Rita’s life story. However, what do you do when that knot loosens and you find yourself slipping?
The ugly side of poverty, along with the beauty of hope offered to those slipping off their ropes, are fully revealed in “All we had.” Ruth and Rita’s story shows that life can knock you down, but you have to keep moving forward the best way you can.
Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.