Sunday, May 29, 2016

all we had Discussion Guide

Book:      all we had
Author:  Annie Weatherwax
Edition:  Scribner softcover 2014

A book I thoroughly enjoyed reading as the pages nearly turned themselves yet while it is categorized as novel, and there is a beginning and an end, this read more like a series of connected vignettes. Each self-contained encounter offers a deeper understanding of one or the other of the characters in beautiful prose.
"Geniuses usually end up killing themselves, which is like walking out of a movie before it's over, and everyone knows an ending can make a whole story fall into place."

Internet Resources

Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Rita is caught up in the subprime mortgage crisis in Fat River. A refresher in the subprime mortgage crisis may help round out how Rita was able to get a loan for a home with no credit history and low wages.

The  impact of the foreclosure crisis as describe in one New York Times article was felt disproportionately in neighborhoods that were largely non-white. As foreclosures started, the impact was compounded with dropping values for the remaining homeowners.


Many of the issues raised can be explored in depth on their own.  Read a blog expressing a point of view, such as Being Raluca blog on the value of compassionover pity .

Major Characters

Ruthie Carmichael: 13 years old at the start of the novel
Rita Carmichael: Ruthie’s mother and 29 years old at the start
Peter Pam: Waitress at Tiny’s Grub ‘n’ Go!
Mel: Owner of Tiny’s Grub ‘n’ Go!
Svetlana: Mel’s wife, who uses a wheelchair
Arlene: Head waitress at Tiny’s
Patti: Ruthie and Rita’s neighbor in Fat River
Dotty and Hank: Elderly owners of the local hardware store
Mary Elizabeth Frankfut: principal of Ruthie’s high school and Ruthie’s neighbor
Vicky Ward: Realtor who sold Rita house with a loan she could never repay

Discussion Topics

A book group can use the titles of the chapters (Kindness, Home, Anger, Well-Being, Farewell, Persistence) as a starting point for discussions.  If you are looking for additional topics, here are a few to stimulate discussion on how the characters in this book connect with your lives.

Mother-Daughter Relationships

Ruthie starts off describing her relationship with her mother when it’s just the two of them as feeling like magic. “When we slept, we fit together like spoons,” page 7. Ruthie thinks of she and her mom as “more like best friends,” page 37.

There is a very strong dependency between this mother and daughter.  Ruthie says she lived in fear of losing her mother, page 26, and at the same time it is usually Ruthie who is the instigator in moving them out of bad situations, or trying to hold on to good ones.
Ruthie compares motherhood to superheroes:
“Superheroes, I realized, don’t fly or look like Jesus.  They drive used Fords like my mother’s and they take their kids with them no matter where they go,” page 56

And even when things get terrible, Ruthie misses her mom, “No matter how she sometimes hurt me or how hard I tried not to, I missed her when she was gone,” page 179.

How would you describe the relationship you have or had with your mother? What have been the primary influences on that relationship? When is the relationship healthier and when more difficult?


From the first pages Ruthie emphasizes that education is a priority for her daughter.  We see this not only in the goal her mother sets for Ruthie for attending Harvard or Yale, but in their day-to-day existence.  “And we never stayed in one place for more than six months.  But I hardly ever missed a day of school,” page 15.

What priorities were set for you by your parents?  How were those priorities indicated? What priorities have you set for yourself? How did the two intertwine?


As Ruthie says:
“My mother would blow a man or rob a store, but she never just took a handout,” page 46.

Where do you see pity in the novel? How do each of the characters react to pity?

Is pity something you often feel for another individual? When? Would you hire someone you pitied? Would you socialize with someone you pitied? How can we remove pity for individuals who face different circumstances than we do and replace pity with healthier interactions?

Awareness of Other’s Lives

Dotty and Hank used to be fun according to Patti and Arlene, but Ruthie doesn’t see this at first.  Everyone is skeptical of how Mel treats his wife, not knowing the guilt he feels for changing her life.  

When Mel tells Ruthie, the first person he has ever told about Svetlana’s accident, he says, “The truth is, I am deeply flawed. And the only chance I have at your forgiveness is owning up to it,” page 156.

The students at Ruthie’s high school all see the principal as “tough and grim and everybody was afraid of her,” page 158. Yet she is the person who gets a doctor to her house when Rita is sick.  And she is the one who watches over Ruthie when her mom is out at all hours of the night.

How does learning someone’s backstory change your perception of who they are? Whether you trust them? How you feel about them? How do you balance being in the present with being aware of how we all arrived in this present moment and the moments that shaped us arriving here?

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