The Sound of Gravel is Ruth’s memoir about her childhood spent in Colonia LeBaron—home of a doomsday polygamist cult founded by Ruth’s grandfather.
I’m so excited to finally share this review with you. The longer I’ve sat on these words, having read The Sound of Gravel seven weeks ago in the first round of advanced reading copies mailed out to members of #the4500launches, the more I’ve had to say about this book. I’ve wanted to read it all over again since the moment I finished it. The Sound of Gravel, Ruth’s willingness to share her story with us, the amazing way I came to be part of this launch team, the opportunities I’ve had to tell the story and encourage others to read this book have shifted my perspective in many ways.
I hope you enjoy my thoughts on The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. And be sure to stick around at the end for a link-up where you can read more reviews of the book from other bloggers!
The soft glow of the desk lamp warms my dark bedroom. Huddled in my chair, feet propped on the foot of my bed, I’m burrowed under a blanket with a book inches from my nose. I’m engrossed in a world so far removed from my own that I have to remind myself that this is real. Someone actually lived through this. I keep forgetting to breathe. Salty tears leak out of my eyes, blurring my vision, knocking the words on the page out of focus. I hear myself gasp occasionally—hand flying to my mouth as I think, “No, no, no.”
I have a hangover. A binge-reading hangover.
It’s not the first of its kind that I’ve experienced, but it might be the most haunting. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had such a marked reaction to a book since I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved in college. (Yes, it’s that haunting.)
I finished The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner yesterday.
The Sound of Gravel is Ruth’s memoir about her childhood spent in Colonia LeBaron—home of a doomsday polygamist cult founded by Ruth’s grandfather. The words that most readily come to mind in describing this book are gripping, numbing, traumatic, enthralling, angering, and heart-breaking—all these words are appropriate, because what Ruth faced in the fifteen years the book spans is more than most people will face in their entire lives.
Growing up in a ramshackle house, haunted by the murder of her father (a prophet of the church of the colony), shouldering a great deal of parenting responsibilities for her siblings, experiencing traumatic situations and experiences no child should be forced to encounter, young Ruthie struggles to make sense of the life she’s been thrust into while recognizing that she doesn’t quite fit in, wondering “did I belong here?”
I don’t want to divulge many spoilers, because I think it’s important that the reader hear the bulk of this story through Ruth’s own words—it’s her story to tell, not mine. As readers and listeners of other’s stories, it can be easy to gloss over or romanticize the struggle faced by the storytellers. One of my worst habits in my college creative nonfiction writing class was tying up my pieces with “a pretty bow”—a habit my professor tried to force out of me. And while this story does eventually get tied into a lopsided bow, it takes a lot of frayed ribbons to get there.
Before I ever started reading The Sound of Gravel, I felt strongly about holding this story with a gentleness of heart, mind, and soul—to honor Ruth’s vulnerability in sharing her experience with the world. Maybe this is due to the fact that I came to know Ruth through an incredible series of events that involved her cousin (my friend Anna) finding Ruth on Twitter and approaching her about helping her promote her book. Or maybe it’s because I’ve recently been impressed with the realization that we all have our own reasons to be brave—and we all have to own our brave—whatever that looks like for each of us. Ruth has done just that by writing and sharing her story—she owns her brave, a brave that is so far removed from my frame of reference that it is hard to fathom.
Seriously. Wrapping my mind around the scenes that play out in this book left my mind spinning, searching for that pretty bow to tie everything up, to bring resolution to the heart-rending trauma. For the entire day after I finished The Sound of Gravel, I felt numb. I found myself blinking back tears at random moments, my mind transported back to the dusty Mexican landscape, thinking of little Ruthie facing yet another obstacle.
Ruth Wariner is a powerful storyteller; she weaves detailed scenes with gripping language. She begins by painting a vivid picture of the isolated environment of the colony, and then thrusts her readers into the mind of her five-year-old self, leading us into the world as she knew it. Once I picked this book up, I didn’t put it down for nearly 250 pages—and I only put it down then because it was 2 a.m. and I had to get at least a little sleep—but I was up and finishing the last 100 pages a couple hours later.
My favorite part of this book is the title. From the time I heard about this book, the title intrigued me. The Sound of Gravel. The moment I realized where the title came from, I was struck by the weight of Ruth’s story all at once. In this scene, overlooking her mother’s coffin, the burden she carried on her young shoulders were clenched in her fist—in the form of tiny rocks and the dust of her beginnings—and released with a promise.
The Sound of Gravel.
Read this book.
I wholeheartedly recommend it.
For more information about Ruth and to preorder The Sound of Gravel (releases Tuesday, January 5, 2016), please visit www.RuthWariner.com.
The Sound of Gravel: Review Link-Up
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