All We Had is a road trip novel that follows a mother and daughter from Los Angeles to the East Coast. In Lucky Us, a family moves from Ohio to Hollywood, then back East to New York. There are two main appeal elements in these road novels. All We Had exemplifies the first–grappling to survive and find security. Lucky Us is about survival, but even more about the other element–reinvention.
Annie Weatherwax is a sculptor and visual artist. All We Had is her debut novel, narrated by precocious 13-year-old Ruthie. Ruthie and her 29-year-old mother are drifters who end up in a small town in upstate New York when their old Ford finally gives out. Weatherwax characterizes her writing as “comic realism,” and uses the 2008 economic downturn as the novel’s backdrop. This small family is struggling just enough to be hit hardest by the recession. Last year my school had a “teach-in” on hunger in America, which focused on food insecurity. I cannot help but see this novel as an ideal literary example of this problem. For more, take a look at the Washington Post review, which focuses on this element in detail.
Katie Holmes is set to play the mother in a movie version of All We Had. It also marks her directorial debut. Josh Boone, director of The Fault in Our Stars, will adapt the script.
Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us is set in the 1940s, which gives this lively family story of continuous reinvention a wartime backdrop. NPR calls its half-sisters “as endearing and comically annoying as any you’ll find in contemporary fiction.” The older of the two teens wants to be an actress, and even does well in Hollywood for a brief time. She has the ability to make herself into whatever she needs to be to survive. Readers will be thrilled by the unpredictability and life to this story.
Other road trip novels? Don’t forget The Last Days of California, which we reviewed earlier this year.
WEATHERWAX, Annie. All We Had. 272p. Scribner. Aug. 2014. Tr $24. ISBN 9781476755205.
At first blush, a story about a young girl and her mother making a road trip from Los Angeles to Boston with the last few dollars they have may seem like a repeat of other novels. However, All We Had rises above that trend to highlight Ruthie’s journey from hopelessness to hope, from being with only her mother to finding a family in a way that readers will remember long after the last page. Ruthie is the only good thing Rita has going for her; she would do anything for her daughter. And that means anything – running out on landlords and lovers, making the move East (because Rita just knows that Ruthie is so brilliant she’ll shine at Harvard), and taking menial jobs to keep a roof over their heads. For all Rita’s sacrifices, it isn’t until they land in Fat River, Upstate New York, that either of them finds a family of sorts. It’s an odd family, from Arlene and Peter Pam to the Hansons and Miss Frankfort, but each of them reaches out to help the pair survive. Because, of course, just when things start looking up—a roof over their heads that they actually own, stability in schooling and work—things start going downhill, due to the financial reversals in this rust belt town. The struggle to build a successful life will resonate with students who have seen their families (and towns) suffer financial hardship.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, CT
BLOOM, Amy. Lucky Us. 234p. Random. Jul. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9781400067244. LC 2013017648.
After her mother’s death in 1939, 16-year-old Iris meets Eva, the daughter of her father’s mistress when Eva is abandoned to this family’s care. The father Eva knew only on Sundays and the occasional Thursday accepts her into their family and Iris and Eva become sisters. Iris, intent on pursuing her dream of becoming a Hollywood star, and Eva, equally intent on staying close to Iris, discover one day that their father is a cheat and liar, so they pack up and head west to follow Iris’s dream. The budding actress makes it into the movie business and encounters the rarified world of 1940s Hollywood. As the siblings meet interesting people and begin to make a life for themselves, their father joins them. Sex is the medium by which stars often progress and Iris discovers that lust and love aren’t always the same thing. After Iris is blackballed by her jealous girlfriend, the family heads to New York. Disguising themselves as a governess and an English butler, Iris and her father gain employment with the wealthy Torelli family. This quirky story is told in short chapters from differing character viewpoints. It is for older teen readers who can handle mature sexual themes. Adroit writing keeps readers willing to accept this eccentric and unconventional family for who they are and what they do. Eva is the glue that keeps the family together and readers will root for her all the way.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA