Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir

National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

National Book for a Better Life Award Finalist

Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award Finalist

Oregon Book Award Finalist

Click here to hear the Interview with Liane Hansen on NPR’s Sunday Morning Edition

Interview with KATHARINE MIESZKOWSKI on Salon

Interview with Gary Shapiro

Interview with Erin and Marti Erikson on Mom Enough

A Smattering of REVIEWS:

Click here to read a Review by Karen Long, Cleveland Plains Dealer (and NBCC Board Member)

From the Library Journal review (starred):

With surprising honesty, veteran journalist Gwartney recounts the painful years that her two oldest daughters lived as runaways. She tried everything to find them—and everything failed, including searching for them herself. She manages to look deep inside herself, asking not only “How is our family going to get through this?” but also “What could I have done differently?” The answers make for a truly absorbing read about how one mother copes with every parent’s worst nightmare. Readers may remember Gwartney’s story from her 2002 appearance on This American Life. Ripe for book clubs and parents who have been put through the wringer by their children.

Review from The Chicago Tribune

From the Kirkus review (starred)

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.

After divorcing her husband, Gwartney moved with her four girls from Arizona to Oregon. The divorce brought desperate sadness to the two oldest daughters, Stephanie and Amanda, who became pawns in the endless battles between their parents. Gwartney did not see at first that the girls were becoming two halves of a single alienated self. She didn’t understand their angry sorrow and was bewildered that she could not find a way to fix their injuries. Both eventually succumbed to the lure of the streets, to drugs and booze, panhandling, sleeping in abandoned buildings and stumbling home when they wished, reeking of urine, filth, cigarettes and fury. When Amanda was 16 and Stephanie 14, they left for good. In the sparsest of elegant prose, Gwartney tries to make sense of it all: why this happened to her and her daughters, who is to blame, why nothing—not counseling, rehab, wilderness therapy, nor dozens of other programs—did any good. Time shifts as she writes; past episodes, remembrances and snippets of conversation intersect seamlessly with her internal dialogues of guilt and resentment. The girls did at last come home, and slowly began to save themselves. Amanda went to college, and Stephanie discovered herself at Colorado’s Eagle Rock School. Yet Gwartney’s relief was tempered by the thought that they had been redeemed not because of her but despite her. In 2003, Amanda gave birth to a son. As mother and daughters lay together in bed comforting the newborn, a love that was always there but lost amidst rage and recriminations was rediscovered.

An achingly beautiful chronicle of unfathomable sorrow, flickering hope and quiet redemption.

Review by Grace Talusan, The Rumpus

Review from The Oregonian

From Donna Seaman’s review in Booklist:

“I was never going to accept that this was our real life.” “A real mother would know what to do.” These two statements encapsulate the anguish Gwartney endures during the mid-1990s when the older two of her four daughters choose to live on the streets rather than at home in the wake of Gwartney’s divorce and move from Arizona to Oregon. As she struggles to work and care for her younger daughters, Gwartney, baffled and terrified, pierced by “guilt and resentment,” tries everything, including a wilderness therapy program, to rescue her stubbornly feral, punk-nation daughters. Amanda and Stephanie fully support this unnerving and riveting family memoir, and 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.

Review from Willamette Week 


What makes Debra Gwartney’s Live Through This special is its literary precision, its truly startling honesty, and, most of all, its ability to sift through pain and ashes and find–not bitterness–but humor and, always, love. I hope every parent in America reads this wonderful book” –Tom Bissell, author of The Father of All Things

“If you are a parent, or if you were ever a child, you will learn from Debra Gwartney’s beautiful, heart-rending story about one of the most terrifying of all family passages, that of the runaway child. Gwartney moves through this emotional maelstrom with wisdom, and writes about it with elegant lucidity.”–Roxana Robinson, author of Cost and Sweetwater

 “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 Books

“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, Tragically and Portrait of My Body

 “Gutsy, edgy, and revelatory, Gwartney’s fast-paced tale of a family in pieces builds to a magnificent, hard-won communion.  Her ability to follow the wildness in her own story uncovers truths about every parent, every child.”–China Galland, author of Love Cemetery, Unburying the Secret History of Slaves and Longing for Darkness, Tara and the Black Madonna