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Live Through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love [Kindle Edition]

Debra Gwartney
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Profoundly moving memoir of the author’s agony and perseverance as she lost her two teenage daughters to the streets, and of the slow, painful reconciliation they eventually found....An achingly beautiful chronicle of unfathomable sorrow, flickering hope and quiet redemption." --STARRED Kirkus

"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. Everyone concerned about self-destructive teens, and every survivor of her or his own wild times, will find Gwartney’s searing chronicle of her resilient family’s runaway years deeply affecting." --Booklist

"Debra Gwartney’s Live Through This is an extraordinary, heart-driven account of daughters lost and found, of other daughters kept close along the way, and of an underworld that’s with us everywhere, but which so few of us see."—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company

"As I read Debra Gwartney’s harrowing memoir, I had to keep reminding myself that this was not fiction. Gwartney’s honesty about her mothering and the rawness with which she tells her story are both admirable and heartbreaking. Live Through This is utterly true, and that, combined with Gwartney’s frank storytelling, make this book unforgettable."—Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle and Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine

"For all the raw power of this true story and the fearless honesty of the voice telling it, what sticks out for me is the literary craft that shapes every sentence. Debra Gwartney has seen clear to the bottom of her experience, purged it of self-righteousness, and emerged with a stunningly humane and humbled awareness of life’s troubles"—Phillip Lopate, author of Totally, Tenderly, Tragi...

Product Details

  • File Size: 1269 KB
  • Print Length: 241 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 Reprint edition (February 17, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #296,876 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything a memoir should be February 22, 2009
Live Through This (aptly titled after Hole's post-Cobain grief album, which Gwartney gave her daughters one Christmas) describes the disappearance and return of two of Gwartney's four daughters, teenage girls who chose to leave their mother and then, finally, to come back. The book details the family's collapse, month by month, and the start of its rebuilding. It exposes a truth most would prefer to avoid: There are some situations in which it's genuinely impossible to figure out the "right" thing to do.

Gwartney recounts the end of her marriage to a charming Peter Pan-- a man who tells his daughters that the child support he sends should be given directly to them as a kind of glorified allowance-- and the two daughters who simply cannot cope with their newly reconfigured family. Finding solace in the street culture of Eugene, Oregon, they begin to disappear for days and weeks at a time, a behavior that escalates until they hop a freight train and leave town, one for several months, the other for a year. During their absences, Gwartney tries to keep the rest of her family together, parenting her remaining two daughters, going to work, spending thousands of dollars on private investigators and, whenever the girls are found, rehabilitation programs and therapists and private schools. This is a book about desperation and helplessness, about grief and guilt, about accountability and loss, about love and resentment, about the unanswerable questions a mother and her daughters ask in the face of circumstances that simply make no sense.

This is a book that exonerates no one and vilifies no one. In careful, expert, calm prose, Gwartney tells this story with heartbreaking vulnerability and honesty. This is not an easy book to read, which makes doing so all the more important and worthwhile. It is life laid bare; it is everything a memoir should be.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended for parents and non-parents alike February 16, 2009
I read "Live Through This" voraciously over the course of two days. Debra Gwartney's journey through her daughters' long months of running away is painful and honest and unflinching, while making for an utterly un-put-down-able story. Her ability to consistently implicate herself in the dynamic of the threesome is not only brave, but also gives the story much of its weight and heft. The book is meticulously well-crafted while never seeming over-written or overwrought. There were a number of times, especially as I approached the end, that I wondered how the book could possibly be wrapped up in a satisfying and realistic way. The final chapter exceeded my expectations, managing to be affecting and full of surprising hope without one word of insincerity or treacly sentiment.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taut, honest, a story of hard grace against pain March 18, 2009
Greatest virtue -- the lean, blunt clarity of the tale and the prose. No comment, just story. And a hard story, a family shattered; but the manner of its telling, without treacle and sermon and easy conclusion and sentimentality, is a real feat. Gwartney just tells you what happened and you get to dig everyone trying to be graceful under duress -- two girls thrashing toward what they might be, and entering incredibly dangerous waters; their other sisters watching with fear; and the mother, alone, weary, terrified, trying to hold the family together. What seems, on the surface, a harrowing tale, isn't -- it's a story of shaggy courage all round. A remarkable read. Highly recommend.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Mother's Memoir" March 14, 2009
The book is subtitled "A Mother's Memoir"; I would not have purchased it if it were "The Runaway's Memoir". I already remember that memoir because I lived it for some years: Hookup for drugs, sleep in odd place, walk around in dirty jeans, be cold, steal something, have sex with someone.

This book is about the Mother and is very unique in that authentic perspective.

I read it in one sitting; I applaud the Mother for not only managing to survive, but for seeing all four girls to an incredibly positive outcome.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart and honest March 15, 2009
I agree with Cynthia's review...this is a mother's memoir, and therefore the memories she shares with such bravery and honesty are hers, not her daughters' or her ex-husband's. She admits to mistakes and resentments that some parents may find hard or uncomfortable to admit themselves, but that are real and honest nonetheless. She doesn't ask for pity, nor does she overdramatize any given situation. She lets her clean, sparse language show us how family disfunction can spiral and how every member plays a part in it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of ferocious love April 20, 2009
While many parenting books champion smug how-to advice about how a super parent can solve any problem, Gwartney's tale of ferocious love and ardent efforts is void of any self-righteous advice. It is an introspective, epic, and honest tale, beautifully told. This Homeresque odyssey to reclaim a family is a study in unconditional love.

This mother, who searches for a way to save her daughters and tries the few options available to her, is unable to restore her family. She loves and mothers the daughters at home and loves the daughters who reject her mothering as well as her very presence. Gwartney's quiet strength and anguish seem to tremor on the page. Live Through This illustrates the complexity of lacerated relationships, which makes this literary memoir essential reading.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I challenge any parent to "Live Through This" March 23, 2009
Even parents with partners know the day-to-day challenges of raising children in a fragmented world, especially teens. Devotion to creating a safe and healthy home with family time, enrollment in after school activities and lots of parental presence is not always enough. Doing it all alone is mind boggling. My late husband specialized in troubled adolescents and his experience showed me that even the most dedicated parents have little to no control over their teens once they leave the house. What Debra Gwartney lived through in her 24-hour a day efforts to make a home for her four daughters and keep them safe brought tears to my eyes. I understand the living fear that eats away at the soul when a child makes poor choices that put their life and their future at risk. Gwartney's willingness to keep trying against all odds,even the most on-the-edge strategies, to save her daughters' lives moved me deeply. Anyone who finds fault with this parent has never walked this path. I have, but only to the tiniest fraction of what she had to endure, and I commend Gwartney's daily courageous efforts to retrieve her 2 oldest children from darkenss while managing to maintain a loving home for her 2 youngest. And all this without any support from the "system" at all. The fact that Amanda and Stephanie are alive today and living good,creative lives is testimony to Gwartney's tireless love.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars It was easy to see through her eyes the horror
This was a vulnerable and raw story of a mother who seemed powerless, as a divorced woman and unempowered by police (who refused to help) to not give up on her runaway daughters. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Laurie S. Snyman
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping. I couldn't put it down.
As a mother of preteens this was effectively a horror story. I see these young lost souls on the streets of the Pacific Northwest and always wonder, "where are their... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Katherine S. Hudson
5.0 out of 5 stars OMG
As a man in my teens when I read this book, all I can say is that it gave me great perspective from women, mothers and teen girls alike. A must read for ANYONE! Read more
Published 6 months ago by J. Hencoski
5.0 out of 5 stars Pain and renewal
Once I started reading this book I was drawn into the family, their feelings, their problems became part of me. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Dee B.
4.0 out of 5 stars Saving your teenagers
This is a heartfelt account of a single mother raising two teenage girls, plus a younger one, in Eugene, Oregon, a town full of street kids, runaways, and easy access to drugs. Read more
Published 18 months ago by dreamsew
5.0 out of 5 stars "Love" it is not the word! I was compelled by it. To...
and yes, sons as well. Gwartey is at the same time so specific in her pursuit of the emotional life that
whirls around the details. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Nancy E. Ryan
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific!
This was such a painful, joyous, touching, raw, heartfelt book. It gave me such a great sense of what this family went through. It's one of my all time favorites!
Published 21 months ago by A. Cohen
5.0 out of 5 stars Very honest
Very honest and a little terrifying. Would be suitable for parents who blame themselves needlessly when their teenagers go "off the rails."
Published 21 months ago by Sarah Kate Uhe
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest, Intelligent, Beautifully Written
Debra Gwartney's memorable and beautifully written first book tells the harrowing, page-turning story of her two oldest daugthers' (both teenagers), many months' absence from their... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Bookish2
5.0 out of 5 stars A Story of Grace in Loss and Humility in Love
Live Through This stands out as one of the few memoirs I've read recently that is written by a mother about being a mother. Read more
Published on August 30, 2012 by Tabitha Jensen
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More About the Author

Debra Gwartney is the author of LIVE THROUGH THIS: a Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2009, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. LIVE THROUGH THIS was also named one of the top ten books of 2009 by The Oregonian and by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, was a national finalist for the Books for A Better Life Award, and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

Debra and her husband Barry Lopez are co-editors of HOME GROUND: Language for an American Landscape, published by Trinity University Press in 2006.

They live in Western Oregon.

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runaway kids
Your niece has tried drugs and sex. Try Outward bound, they have a longer programin Costa Rica.
Mar 14, 2009 by Cynthia M. Sampey |  See all 3 posts
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