Childhood should be a safe and stable place. For too many children, the place holds shame and pain. Domenica Ruta was one of those children. She grew up in a household with a drug using, heavy drinking, promiscuous mother and a parade of mother’s male companions. In her frank memoir “With or Without You,” Ruta shares the results of that life and the story of how she overcame the demons.
From her earliest memories in Massachusetts to her college days and into the present, Ruta details the ups and downs of life with her mother’s habits and the effect those habits had on her own behavior, as well as the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a family member. She spares no one in her searing look into the ripples that follow adult decisions and the devastation to children caught in the surge.
Ruta suffered the abuse of her peers as well. Her oddball mother showed her instability in front of Ruta’s schoolmates, leaving Ruta an easy target for ridicule. The erratic financial resources of her family often caused problems with inappropriate attire or unpaid tuition bills. Yet Ruta overcame the shame and upheaval to find herself as a worthwhile human being.
“With or Without You” is not an easy book to read. The parental manipulation of a child angered me, as did the disregard for her suffering. Ruta’s final triumph is what makes the effort worthwhile. Statistics may write off the chances of a child raised in such circumstances, but Ruta is determined to beat the odds.
The book is well-written even as it is brutally honest. Ruta has a gift for lightening the heavy story with a wry observation or self-deprecating remark. She opens her life to us and bares her soul along the way. You may find yourself hating the story of her suffering and her descent into her own addictions, but I think you’ll find yourself cheering her on in her efforts toward a more normal life.
The language can get quite rough and the situations include abuse and other sexual behaviors, along with the alcohol and drug use. This book is not appropriate for young readers. Mature readers will find characters with depth and a storyline to rival any television soap opera or reality show.
Readers who enjoy memoirs will find a scathing look into an imperfect life in “With or Without You.” Those who prefer melodrama can revel in the over-the-top histrionics of Ruta’s mother.
While not a strictly religious book, there are faith aspects within the pages. Anyone seeking inspiration will find it in the story of a woman who climbed above her heritage and dared to share the tale.
“With or Without You: a Memoir” by Domenica Ruta
Published by Random House
This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher with no constraints placed upon the review. All opinions are my own.