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Live through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Loveby Debra Gwartney
Synopses & Reviews
"What makes this book special is... its ability to sift through pain and ashes and find not bitterness but not a little humor and, always, love." Tom Bissell, author of The Father of All Things
With four young daughters and a miserably failed marriage, Debra Gwartney moves halfway across the country, to Eugene, Oregon, for a new job and what she hopes will be a new life for herself and her daughters.The two oldest, Amanda, 14, and Stephanie, 13, have a symbiotic relationship so intense they barely know where one begins and the other leaves off.They come to blame their mother for their family's dislocation, and one day the two run off together — to the streets of their own city, then San Francisco, then utterly gone.
Live Through This — as emotionally wrenching and ultimately redemptive as David Sheff's Beautiful Boy — is the story of Gwartney's frantic effort to recover the beautiful, intelligent daughters she cherishes. The harrowing subculture of the American runaway, with its random violence, its horrendously dangerous street drugs, and its patchwork of hidden shelters — none of them interested in a parent's grief — is captured by Gwartney with brilliant intensity. Faced with the unraveling of the family she thought she could hold together through blind love, Gwartney begins the painful — and universal — journey of recognizing her own flawed motivations as a mother. The triumph of Gwartney's story is its sensitive rendering of how all three, over several years, have dug deep for forgiveness and a return to profound love.
"After Gwartney and her husband — 'two people who didn't belong in a marriage together but who couldn't manage to find a decent way to split up' — divorce, her two older daughters, barely in their teens, run away. In this bitingly honest memoir, Gwartney, a former correspondent for Newsweek, tells of her daughters' paths of self-destruction as street children, with intervening stints in various treatment centers (among them, a state group home, the foster child program, a 'wilderness-therapy program'). As daughters Amanda and Stephanie move back and forth between their parents' homes of squabbles and angry rebellion and the street world of self-maiming — socially (dropping out of school), physically (drugs, scabies), emotionally (attempted suicide) — Gwartney builds a life around trying to bring them home again, into which her younger daughters, Mollie and Mary, are inexorably drawn. After a grim and frustrating two years, she is successful. Gwartney's memoir, however, is not just about the runaways; rather it's a reflection of her emotional state as months go by not knowing where one or the other daughter is. Her story was originally told in an episode of public radio's This American Life. While she occasionally overwrites, she offers readers comfort and some hope." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Profoundly moving....An achingly beautiful chronicle of unfathomable sorrow, flickering hope and quiet redemption." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Gwartney deserves high praise for her clear and lacerating prose, her refusal to assign blame or make excuses, and the stunning candor with which she offers telling glimpses into her own, and her daughters' father's, youthful recklessness and parental flounderings." Booklist
"[A] truly absorbing read about how one mother copes with every parent's worst nightmare." Library Journal
Live Through This — as emotionally wrenching and ultimately redemptive as David Sheff's Beautiful Boy — follows Gwartney's frantic effort to recover her beautiful, intelligent daughters from their lives on the street.
An intensely emotional and redemptive memoir about a mother's mission to rescue her runaway daughters
After a miserably failed marriage, Debra Gwartney moves with her four young daughters to Eugene, Oregon, for a new job and what she hopes will be a new life for herself and her family. The two oldest, Amanda, 14, and Stephanie, 13, blame their mother for what happened, and one day the two run off together—to the streets of their own city, then San Francisco, then nowhere to be found. The harrowing subculture of the American runaway, with its random violence, its horrendously dangerous street drugs, and its patchwork of hidden shelters is captured by Gwartney with brilliant intensity in Live Through This as she sets out to find her girls. Though she thought she could hold her family together by love alone, Gwartney recognizes over the course of her search where she failed. It's a testament to her strength—and to the resilience of her daughters—that after several years they are a family again, forged by both forgiveness and love.
About the Author
Debra Gwartney is a former Oregonian newspaper reporter, and worked as a correspondent for Newsweek magazine for ten years. She is on the nonfiction writing faculty at Portland State University. Her 2002 appearance with daughters Stephanie and Amanda on This American Life garnered intense listener response. The mother of four daughters and married to the writer Barry Lopez, Gwartney lives in Eugene, Oregon.
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