All We Had

A Novel

All We Had

The stunning debut novel from sculptor and painter Annie Weatherwax, a wry and sharply observed portrait of a gritty mother and daughter, living on the edge of poverty, who find an unlikely home amid the quirky residents of small town America.

For thirteen-year-old Ruthie Carmichael and her mother, Rita, life has never been stable. The only sure thing is their love for each other. Though Rita works more than one job, the pair teeters on the edge of poverty. When their landlord kicks them out, Rita resorts to her movie-star looks and produces carpet-installer Phil, "an instant boyfriend," who takes them in.

Before long, Ruthie convinces her mother to leave and in their battered Ford Escort, they head East in search of a better life. When money runs out and their car breaks down, they find themselves stranded in a small town called Fat River where their luck finally takes a turn. Rita lands a steady job waitressing at Tiny’s, the local diner. With enough money to pay their bills, they rent a house and Fat River becomes the first place they call home.

Peter Pam, Tiny’s transgender waitress and the novel’s voice of warmth and reason, becomes Ruthie’s closest friend. Arlene, the no-nonsense head waitress, takes Rita under her wing. The townspeople—Hank and Dotty Hanson, the elderly owners of the embattled local hardware store, and even their chatter-mouth neighbor Patti—become Ruthie and Rita’s family.

Into this quirky utopia comes smooth-talking mortgage broker Vick Ward, who entices Rita with a subprime loan. Why rent when you can own? Almost as soon as Rita buys a house their fortunes change. Faced once again with the prospect of homelessness, Rita reverts to survival mode, and the price she pays to keep them out of poverty changes their lives forever.

Accomplished visual artist Annie Weatherwax has written a stunning, heartrending first novel. Ruthie’s wry voice and razor sharp observations about American life in the twenty-first century infuse the prose with disarming honesty and humor. All We Had heralds the arrival of a powerful new voice in contemporary fiction.
  • Scribner | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476755205 | 
  • August 2014
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Sculptor and painter Annie Weatherwax presents her debut novel.

Read an Excerpt

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for All We Had includes an introduction and discussion questions. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Teetering on the brink of homelessness at the height of the housing boom, thirteen-year-old Ruthie Carmichael and her mother, Rita, load up their possessions (and a few stolen goods) in their battered Ford Escort and set out cross-country in search of a better life. When car trouble brings their journey to an end in the small town of Fat River, they unexpectedly find a home amid the town’s quirky residents. At its core, All We Had is a love story between a mother and daughter whose bond is irrevocably altered by their search for the elusive American Dream.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Describe Ruthie and Rita’s relationship. How is it traditional and how is it unusual? Rita’s shortcomings as a parent are often evident, but in what ways is she a good mother? What kind of mothering do you think she had?

2. What is “fierce and smart” about Rita? Why does Rita hide these traits from men in particular? How do economic circumstances inform this behavior?

3. Rita and Ruthie’s car is central to their lives. For a long time see more

About the Author

Annie Weatherwax
Photograph by Lou Goodman

Annie Weatherwax

Annie Weatherwax was the 2009 winner of the Robert Olen Butler Prize for Fiction and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, for years she earned a living sculpting superheroes and cartoon characters for Nickelodeon, DC Comics, Pixar, and others. She is currently a full time painter and writer. All We Had is her first novel. Learn more at