At a Glance
Title: The Sound of Gravel
Author: Ruth Wariner
Published: January 5, 2016 by Flatiron Books
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Religion
Goodreads Rating: 4.19
“Ruth Wariner was the thirty-ninth of her father’s forty-two children. Growing up on a farm in rural Mexico, where authorities turned a blind eye to the practices of her community, Ruth lives in a ramshackle house without indoor plumbing or electricity. At church, preachers teach that God will punish the wicked by destroying the world and that women can only ascend to Heaven by entering into polygamous marriages and giving birth to as many children as possible. After Ruth’s father – the man who had been the founding prophet of the colony- is brutally murdered by his brother in a bid for church power, her mother remarries, becoming the second wife of another faithful congregant.
In need of government assistance and supplemental income, Ruth and her siblings are carted back and forth between Mexico and the United States, where her mother collects welfare and her step-father works a variety of odd jobs. Ruth comes to love the time she spends in the States, realizing that perhaps the community into which she was born is not the right one for her. As Ruth begins to doubt her family’s beliefs and question her mother’s choices, she struggles to balance her fierce love for her siblings with her determination to forge a better life for herself. “
I normally never read memoirs. Most of them seem preachy to me and so I generally steer clear of them. I decided to give this one a shot though since a few of my fellow bookstagrammers were reading it as an August buddy read. As I mentioned, I normally would have strayed away from this buddy read but the synopsis gave it a ‘escaping a cult’ feel which intrigued me.
“The rest of us followed silently, watching and listening as Mom took a wide step over the highway shoulder and onto the dirt road, the gravel crunching beneath her footsteps, the sound of home.”
The book takes place in a variety of locations but is told through the eyes of Ruth Wariner. We meet her when she is six years ago and I can honestly say that just from the way the story is told, Ruth as a six year old was probably more mature than most teenagers. Granted, I’m not sure if that’s a result of an adult rewriting their live accounts 20 years later, but I wouldn’t be surprised given the way her family was living if she really was as mature as I picture in my head.
We follow Ruth through her life journey where she learns how to make bread, milk cows, and tend to her younger siblings. Ruth being the oldest girl (outside of her most likely autistic older sister Audrey) is a second mother to her siblings and while she rages against her mother as she get’s older for the choices she makes, she never once thinks of abandoning her family.
The main topic of this book though is religion with a major focus on polygamy. We learn of the ups and downs her community has. We learn about the family’s constant almost nomadic way of life and the disruption that is left in the children’s lives as a result. We even see the eviler side of this cult like community, which Ruth and other younger girls of the community suffer through. It’s extremely eye opening to hear about the constant struggle to support their family and even to simply find stability. Wariner did a fantastic job of adding just the right amount of detail plus keeping a consistent voice throughout the book.
Now for a little ranting.
I don’t ever want to come off as sounding judgey but I know that’s how my strong personality can be interpreted sometimes; and while everyone is entitled to their own views and ways of live, I just do not understand the concept of polygamy. Granted of course I know what it is, I understand the fundamental views around it, but I don’t understand how anyone would consent to that. Now, I will say that if polygamy could go both ways, ie a women could have multiple husbands and a husband could have multiple wives, sure, it makes more sense to me. But that fact that once again women allow themselves to be thought of as second to men is what gets me. There is even a portion in the book that talks about how, any man who has multiple wives will be a prophet in the afterlife, while his obedient wives will be his servants. (note that I can’t remember the exact wording but that’s the just of it). How does that not scream unequal to any women? Getting off my soap box a little, I will say that I was raised as a strong, independent women. Who was told I could do whatever I wanted in life. Who was told to find myself before having kids and a family. Who was raised by two career oriented parents. Who was told what my worth was. So I was raised knowing that I deserve to be equal to my husband, not subservient to him. I know that not everyone is raised that way and honestly I applaud Ruth for everything she has done. For sticking with her siblings, for protecting them, for standing up for herself, for continuously loving her mother even when things were bleak. That to me is pure strength.
One of the other comments that stuck with me the most in this book was all of the children’s’ determination to not be apart of polygamy later in life. They credit seeing their mother’s struggle with envy of other wives, caring for so many children, and lack of a permanent father figure as being the main reason. It’s a good reminder to me to remember how much kids actually take in. Even when we think they’re too young to understand, they are constantly absorbing the events around them.
Ya’ll this book is gripping and while it reads like a fiction coming of age story, the courageous and persistence tone the story is told in will have you sucked into the story in no time. I mean I read it in a single night! Even if you’re not a non-fiction fan (#me), if you even remotely enjoy a story about courage, resiliance, and unweaving love for family, you will love this book. Definitely in my top 10 so far this year. ★★★★★ Get it HERE.