Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: The Sound Of Gravel: A Memoir – Ruth Wariner

The Sound Of Gravel: A Memoir – Ruth Wariner

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 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.

Review: How do I review someone’s life? Especially when that life kinda sucked?

The author, Ruth Wariner, grew up in a polygamist commune in Mexico. She spends her childhood living in extreme poverty and caring for her siblings. Several of them have special needs and require constant medical care. As Ruth gets older, she starts dreaming about a life in the US. But, that life doesn’t seem possible. How can she get her siblings away from their abusive father? How can she get them across the border without their parents’ consent? How will she financially support them once they’re in the United States? This memoir is about the lengths that people will go to in order to protect their family.

“The memory of those days reminds me of how exhausted I had been, but my siblings gave my life purpose, they were my bridge from pain to healing, from past to future. They are as much the authors of my survival as I am of theirs.” – The Sound of Gravel

This memoir is not an easy read. It’s one of those books that you can’t stop thinking about. The story follows Ruth from her childhood to her early teenage years. Her childhood is horrific, so if you can’t stand reading about child abuse, you might want to skip this one. Ruth and her siblings are subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Their education is constantly interrupted because their parents drag them back and forth between the US and Mexico. Ruth watches several of her siblings die from genetic illnesses and accidents at the commune. It’s not pleasant. Ruth’s parents expect her to grow up to be a sister wife and a parent. She doesn’t really have a future.

I wanted to reach through the pages and shake Ruth’s mother. She constantly puts her husband’s wishes before the safety of her children. It’s infuriating. Ruth has to develop an intense bond with her siblings because no one else will protect them. Some of them are too disabled to protect themselves. I was often tempted to throw this book across the room because it made me angry. How can parents be so selfish? By the end of the story, I was mentally screaming at Ruth to get out of the compound. No one should have to live through all that insanity.

Also, that ending? I don’t want to spoil anything, but holy crap. Brace yourself.    

“As I pulled the covers up and let Micah settle in next to me, I heard Mom’s voice in my ears: Children need to get used to being in the dark. She’d repeated that countless times throughout my childhood. No, I thought, they don’t.” – The Sound of Gravel

The writing is pretty average, but I love that the author doesn’t wallow in self-pity. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she did. Reading the book was difficult; I couldn’t imagine living through it. She’s very straightforward about everything that happens. She evokes emotion without dwelling on the abuse. It’s an effective way to tell a devastating story.

If you can handle the subject, I’d recommend this book. It’s an inspiring memoir about love, sacrifice, and bravery.


  1. Having lived in Southern Utah for a decade, I have heard more than one story of the problems wtih fundamentalist Mormons who still practice polygamy. This shounds like a heartbreaking book. Thanks for the review.

    1. There are some Mormon fundamentalist communities in Southern Colorado, too. They have a lot of problems. Child abuse, welfare fraud, and poverty.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. The people who choose to live with these groups (i.e. not the children who are brought up in this way but the ones who lived a different life before and then decided to join the lifestyle) always fascinate me. It makes me wonder what it is that attracts them to the group. I guess it's the desire to belong somewhere and feeling like you belong but I just can't imagine choosing to live somewhere with that extreme a lifestyle.

    Ruth's story sounds really tough.

    Cait @ Click's Clan

    1. The Mormon fundamentalist communities fascinate me, too. Some of the communities in the US have been around since the 1800s. Families have lived in them for generations and are probably hesitant to leave because it’s the only life they know.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. This does sound like a really tough read although an important one. I couldn't even imagine growing up in this manner and it pains me that some children deal with abuse daily. I am not sure if this one is for me but I will keep it on my radar.