I know. I’ve talked about this book for months…years, even.
You likely already know what the title is.
But I’ll tell you anyway.
The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron.
(You would think I’d be able to spell “polygamist’s,” but no–I’ve misspelled it at least six times writing this post. Words are hard sometimes.)
For anyone who doesn’t already know, allow me to go ahead and offer the disclaimer that Anna LeBaron is a dear friend of mine. We met in an online group in early 2015, and well, the rest is history. I’m slightly biased when it comes to her words, both spoken and written, but I’ll do my best to keep my review as objective as possible. (I will refer to her as Anna from here out, however—talking about one of your closest friends in third person is a little odd.)
Ready? Let’s go.
First—let’s talk about the front cover. Tyndale nailed it with the book cover. The first time I saw it, I was speechless. Little Anna, posed and precious, yet hidden and silenced behind stark and cold censor bars. Blind and gagged. It’s haunting, chilling, and unsettling. Maybe it’s my highly-empathic nature or the fact that the first time I heard Anna’s story, I was a teacher of littles, but at the sight of the cover the instinctive urge to gather Little Anna up in my arms weighed on me. It’s a cover that would stop me in my tracks if I saw it sitting on a bookstore shelf. (I cannot wait to see it sitting on a bookstore shelf!)
On to the story: The Polygamist’s Daughter is the third book I’ve read about the LeBaron family, so I already had a pretty solid frame of reference for the people, places, and events Anna discussed. I’ve also heard her speak informally about her family of origin. As much as I already knew about Anna’s experience, actually reading her account from the perspective of “little Anna” unlocked a new wave of emotion—a host of emotions, actually.
Until late 2015, I’d read only a couple of memoirs. It just wasn’t my favorite genre. Since then, memoirs have earned a pretty high ranking on my favorite genres list. One thing I’ve found to be an indicator of my interest is binge reading sessions. There are some books that require you to find a comfy spot and remain there for the next 5-6 hours, hardly moving as you progress from cover to cover. This is one of those books.
The Polygamist’s Daughter plunges you into the depths of rejection, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. A desire to intervene and protect, shield and comfort young Anna will rise within you. As the story progresses, you will rejoice at the strength, bravery, and courage that Anna finds deep within herself. You will walk away with hope that light shines even from the darkest circumstances.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll just say this: Anna’s objective was to tell her story from the perspective of herself as a child and she and her contributing writer, Leslie Wilson, accomplished that beautifully. Anna has skillfully told her story in a way that invites her readers into her experience from the perspective of an innocent child navigating her way into adulthood.
The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron with Leslie Wilson (Tyndale) releases March 21, 2017 and is available at most book retailers.
Learn more about Anna at www.AnnaLeBaron.com.
I have a love-hate relationship with blogging.
I love that writing is a cathartic outlet for processing the moments that make up my life—the celebratory, the nerve-wracking, the gut-wrenching. The words on the page hold the emotions of a few minutes, days, weeks, months, years; they convey the details that were most striking to my senses in a given timeframe. I love that the lessons I’m learning and the insight they bring are preserved on the page and within the tangled webs of the internet through my blog.
I love that I can share my growth with those who are a few steps ahead of me or a few steps behind me in the journey. I love that writing has provided connections with many women I wouldn’t otherwise know. Women who have reached behind them, taken my hand, and helped me find my footing on the path. Women who are finding their own footing who I can reach back to and guide along the path as those ahead of me have done.
But I hate it sometimes too. I hate it when I go for weeks (even months) without writing something other than to-do lists (I write an awful lot of lists these days). The absence of catharsis through the written word weighs heavily on my soul and my mind is bogged down by all the thoughts and lists of blog topics that pile up like hundreds of cars in the ten-mile New Jersey Turnpike traffic jam I once was unfortunate enough to experience. (Ironically, it was re-reading a seven-year-old blog of mine that reminded me of that scenario this morning.)
I hate it when I start thinking about numbers—wondering how many people actually read my blog, or berating myself for not posting on a regular basis, or lamenting the fact that writing blogs “the right way” doesn’t flow easily for me (I don’t think I’ve ever written a post that was less than 800 words).
I hate the pressure to say something witty, or to make a profound statement. If I let those thoughts run wild and free, I can talk myself out of writing for quite a while.
But when the release comes—when I allow the mental block to crack, when I sit in front of my laptop and let the words start flowing, I’m always a bit surprised at the sentences, the paragraphs, the pages that begin to appear on the screen.
Words are in me. They always have been. Words are as much a part of me as breathing. And just as I need to inhale and exhale in order to breathe, I need the words that pour into me to also pour out of me.
You’d think I would have learned this lesson by now.
That I would carve out time each day to jot a few sentences…a few paragraphs…a few pages.
Interestingly, as I’m sitting at my desk typing this post, my phone buzzes with a calendar reminder: Manuscript Deadline, today at 7:30 p.m. Last October, I tasked myself with having the fifty-thousand-word, first rough draft of my book manuscript completed by February 27th. I surprised myself by meeting that goal on January 14th. And as happy as I was to have accomplished the task that seemed so impossible, I immediately started letting all my insecurities about writing a book start piling up: who am I to write a book? Who’s going to actually read this book? Are my thoughts valuable enough to sandwich between a front and back cover and share with the world?
For the weeks sandwiched between January 14th and yesterday, February 23rd, I did not peek at the manuscript. I pushed it aside, knowing that although I needed to let it sit and rest for a bit, eventually I needed to open it back up, poke around in those pages, and begin the messy process of editing all those words.
A lot has happened in my personal life since the night I pushed my manuscript aside. Some parts of those weeks feel like distant memories and other parts of those weeks are still very tender spots that need care and attention. I’m walking a fine line of knowing what is mine to share and what isn’t—which is a huge reason that I’ve been absent from this blog. My story is closely woven with the stories of others and much of what is happening in my heart, mind, and spirit is so entangled in the stories of others that I can’t fully express it.
It’s a season that I both love and hate.
I love the growth and new opportunities that are placed before me daily. I love the new people I’m meeting. I love that so many aspects of my life that are now normal or becoming routine were once some of my greatest fears. I love the paradox of it.
But I hate that my heart is in many places while my physical body can only be in one. I hate that arriving in one place means leaving the other. I hate the paradox of it.
It’s a season in which breathing deeply—inhaling and exhaling both air and words—is the greatest act of self-care I can offer myself.
I draw in a breath,
The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
I was on the launch team for this book in November and December 2015. It was the first “official” launch team I’d been on and it whet my literary appetite for spreading the word about awesome books. As part of the launch team, I’d already read the advance reader copy (ARC) of Wariner’s memoir, but that didn’t stop me from reading it again once the hardcover was in my hands. And this time I was able to slow down and take in the harrowing journey Ruth and her siblings took through their childhoods. (During the launch, we were passing 20 ARCs to approximately 100 people through the mail, so it was a speed-reading free for all. I read the ARC in one emotionally-exhausting night.) If you’d like to read my original review of The Sound of Gravel from earlier this year, you can read it here.
The End of the World by Amy Matayo (Advance Reader PDF)
This is the first book I read by Matayo. She writes realistically and develops solid, relatable characters. The End of the World is based on some sensitive subject matter, including foster care and child neglect. It was a heavy read. But one that gripped my attention early on and kept it. It’s told from the perspective of two main characters and Matayo seamlessly switches between points-of-view. It is a sweet story of friendship between two teenagers amidst a backdrop of a less-than-ideal foster care situation.
The Blood Covenant by Rena Chynoweth
Besides The Sound of Gravel and one other memoir, this was the only book I’ve read about the LeBaron family and those related to them. Rena was the youngest wife of infamous cult-leader Ervil LeBaron. In this book, she tells her perspective of living under his influence. It is both riveting and appalling. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down and read it in two days.
Stones of Remembrance by Julie Presley
Julie Presley is my new favorite fiction author. She’s also a good friend. Julie is a self-proclaimed “edgy Christian romance author.” She writes real, relatable stories that speak truth and healing into the hearts of her readers. Her characters are those that you find yourself thinking about as though they are your actual friends. Julie writes each scene with depth; her use of imagery pulls you into the story. She has found a perfect balance between believable characters and riveting plot lines. She builds in scriptural truths without sounding cheesy, old-fashioned, or pious. And when it comes to relational tension? She’s got that down, too. You can find a more detailed review of Stones of Remembrance here.
Breaking Busy by Alli Worthington
From the very beginning, Alli writes with an honest wit, using her own life as an example of how to “break busy;” she encourages her readers to examine the things they do because they “should” and how pouring their energy into those areas leave us depleted when it come to the things that not only fulfill us, but also actually enjoy participating in. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions that allow us to dig deeper into figuring out why we’re piling on the busyness and provide action steps to change our behaviors and thought patterns.
Curious Faith by Logan Wolfram
Have you ever finished a book that you didn’t want to end and feel like you need to begin re-reading it immediately? Curious Faith is one of those books for me. I started reading it several month ago, but set it aside a few weeks later because it was hitting to close to home regarding some areas of crisis that were developing in my personal life. I needed to read Logan Wolfram’s words, but I didn’t necessarily want to hear them. I picked it back up once again a few weeks ago, and it couldn’t have been more perfect timing. (And I got to meet Logan at a local book signing—bonus!)
In Curious Faith, Wolfram shares her journey of becoming more curious about God and the life paths He was leading her down. She writes with enthusiastic passion, gentle instruction, and accessible vulnerability–particularly in sharing her experiences with miscarriage and infertility. She encourages her readers to think outside the box of preconceived ideas about how God works.
What to Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn) by Seth Godin
I brought this one home from Texas (it was an Anna-suggested read) and am still working my way through it. Apparently I need to digest its contents slowly.
Nor Forsake by Julie Presley (Advance Reader PDF)
Another favorite fiction selection by Julie Presley. As in Stones of Remembrance, Presley writes characters with relatable struggles. It’s not the usual sappy, plastic storyline. It’s real. And the way she weaves Libby’s story with Sarah’s story is well-crafted and artfully done. In Nor Forsake, you get not only one story, but two! Presley has earned a spot on my favorite writers’ list, for sure.
The Go-Getter—Peter B. Kyne
Healing From Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse Shannon Thomas (Advance Reader PDF)
When I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Shannon Thomas’ book, I accepted not because I considered myself in need of the subject matter, but because I thought it might be a good resource I could recommend to people in the future. I was dead wrong in assuming this subject did not pertain to me.
Within the first few pages of the introduction, as Thomas writes about the nature of psychological abusers (or “toxic people” as she frequently refers to them), I realized that I had, indeed, encountered these people—and they were people who had significant roles in my life. Once I got over the shock of that realization and could continue reading the book, I found it to be a treasure trove of information and encouragement.
In a conversational tone, Thomas walks the reader through six stages that help the reader understand the tactics abusers use and how survivors can create healthy boundaries for themselves as they begin to heal from the damage inflicted through psychological abuse. She provides solid, relatable examples of this type of abuse and assures the reader that they are not at fault for having been targeted. Included at the end of the book are journal prompts for each of the six stages, a helpful tool the reader can use to process his or her own experiences. I highly recommend Healing From Hidden Abuse—whether you think you need to read it or not—as a resource for your own recovery or as an informative guide to walk alongside someone else on their journey to recovery.
Unfrozen: Stop Holding Back and Release the Real You by Andrea Wenburg (Advance Reader PDF)
Wenberg tells her story of feeling as though her deep desire to connect with others was “too much” for those around her to handle. She recounts her journey from childhood to adulthood, and how she learned not only to embrace her true self, but also to relate to others from a place of confidence in knowing that, because God created her as He did, she “can risk everything to show the kind of love Jesus has for me.”
If you have ever felt like you have something to give the world, but have been bound by fear–the fear of your voice being too loud or too quiet, the fear of being too much or too little, I would encourage you to read this book. Though the subtitle is indicative of a book of a self-help nature, it reads more like a conversational memoir.
I Don’t Wait Anymore: Letting Go of Expectations and Grasping God’s Adventure for You by Grace Thornton
You might remember that time last year when I joined a second-string launch team and rogue-launched Jen Hatmaker’s book, For the Love. This year, Jen’s husband Brandon selected that same team (#the4500) to be his launch team (the A-team, this time around) for A Mile Wide. That was pretty cool—as was participating in two of Brandon’s book tour events—one in Houston and one in Dallas.
In the first section of the book, Brandon Hatmaker challenges us to look a bit deeper at our faith while also simplifying the true intent of the gospel. Rather than seeking out the “do’s” and “don’ts” of following Jesus, Hatmaker encourages us to look to Jesus’s interactions with people and how he met them where they were instead of requiring them to check off a bunch of good behavior/expectation boxes before interacting with them.
In the second section of A Mile Wide, Hatmaker discusses the need for community among believers and non-believers. He is passionate in his belief that the church should be missional, not sequestering themselves in a church building all the time, but intentionally serving others in the local community. Hatmaker extols the benefits of varying the types, locations, and venues for small group meetings and service projects, stressing that the meeting people where they are, like Jesus exemplified in the gospel, is the key to building relationships with them: “Jesus almost always met people at their greatest felt need as a part of addressing their spiritual need. He had compassion that allowed him to see through people and speak their language. Community and commission is that shared language between believers and nonbelievers.”
With a tone that is more conversational than condemning (you won’t find condemning words here, convicting, perhaps, but not condemning), A Mile Wide is a must read for anyone who desires to live out their faith in more missional-minded way.
The Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo (Advance Reader PDF)
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
Watching the Tree Limbs by Mary DeMuth
Until a friend loaned me this book, I didn’t know Mary DeMuth had written fiction. I’m so happy to have made this discovery! Watching the Tree Limbs weaves tragedy, mystery, hope, and truth together in an enchanting way. DeMuth is an enticing storyteller; every time a new clue or hint showed up to unravel the mystery of one of the characters, I thought I’d figured it out…until another surprising development came along. I loved this raw, gritty yet redemptive story and will definitely read more of DeMuth’s fiction.
The Undoing of Saint Silvanus by Beth Moore
Moore’s first foray into fiction was an intriguing read. A suspenseful plotline and plenty of spicy characters held my attention from early on. There were a few twists that I saw coming, but some that surprised me. There was a lot happening in the plot and because it all needed to be tied up at the end, the conclusion was a little anticlimactic. Still, The Undoing is a book I’ll likely read again. (Also—the fact that I met Beth Moore at a local book signing was totally awesome! She’s delightful!)
How To Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White (Advance Reader Copy)
Is your house out of control? Cluttered? Messy? Disorganized? Driving you crazy? Dana K. White has tips and tricks that will help you get your space back on track. And she’s FUNNY. A book about housekeeping that’s also an enjoyable read? Yes! White provides lighthearted motivation to get out of your housekeeping ruts, de-clutter your home, and streamline your home-management routines without making you feel like a domestic failure. A must-read for anyone who feels overwhelmed by their daily chores!
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
The Broken Way is an offering of hope and healing amid hardship, hurt, and heartbreak. Voskamp strips her own heart bare as she related the struggle of finding her way through breaking upon breaking, In One Thousand Gifts, she taught us to live full of gratitude; in The Broken Way, Voskamp reveals that the only way to be fully abundant is to pour thankfulness, love, and grace over those around us. With lyrical prose and understanding born only from living through broken places, Voskamp once again speaks deeply to the heart of her reader. (Ann Voskamp is also delightful in person.)
Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
I just finished this book a few weeks ago and I already need to read It again—this time preferably with my own copy and pen in hand to take notes in the margins.
The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa TerKeurst
I’m halfway through this one and am finding it a very timely and useful book in this transitional season.
The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir by Anna LeBaron and Leslie Wilson (Advance Reader Copy)
This book is, by far, my favorite one of 2016. I wrote a blog about it here that tells why (in case you haven’t already heard and want to know!). Anna’s book is a memoir of her childhood growing up in a violent, polygamist cult and how she escaped it at the tender age of thirteen. She tells of horrific events she witnessed and the hope of not only having lived through them, but also of finding healing as she grew into adulthood. I can’t say enough about this book. It’s compelling, harrowing, hopeful, and redemptive. You’ll want to read it. (Releases March 21, 2016)
Although I didn’t meet my reading goals for the year, I’ve read a lot of great books, been on some fun launch teams, and met a lot of wonderful authors.
What was your favorite book of 2016?
Let’s get right to it.
I got some fun mail yesterday:
After a full year of anxiously anticipating it, I received an advance copy of my friend Anna LeBaron’s book, The Polygamist’s Daughter, in the mail yesterday. I was literally jumping up and down and squealing. I haven’t yet found a way to put all my feelings about this book into words. But here, I’m going to try.
Anna’s book is a memoir of her childhood growing up in a violent, polygamist cult and how she escaped it at the tender age of thirteen. She tells of horrific events she witnessed and the hope of not only having lived through them, but also of finding healing as she grew into adulthood.
I’ve had the great privilege of witnessing the tail-end of Anna’s journey to publication a little more closely than others. I’ve sat with her through endless hours of edits and reminded her numerous times that her story matters. In some ways, I feel like this book contains chunks of my heart. (That is probably true for a lot of people who have met and lived life with Anna, though.)
When I was little—maybe seven or eight—I went through a phase of wanting to be a doctor or nurse—specifically, a “baby doctor or nurse.” It didn’t last long, but I’ve always remembered how obsessed I was with that train of thought. In the case of this book, I told Anna that I feel like a proud aunt over the birth of this “book baby.”
Life is full of wearying circumstances that we sometimes can’t find any understanding of why we’re faced with such pain. But there are other times when, if we walk the path long enough—and trust the process of navigating our way through the rocky terrain, the loss of directions, and the questioning of whether we’ll ever make it out of the valley—we can eventually see that our journey has brought us full circle.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that it brought us back to our starting point, but rather it has connected our beginning point to another beginning point…and so on. A circle, by virtue of its character, doesn’t have a beginning or end point; it flows fluidly together in a continuous line.
The stories of humanity have been interconnected since the beginning of time and continue to weave through and around every person on this planet. We will never really know how intertwined our stories are to one another; however, occasionally our stories intersect with another’s in such a way that it brings us full circle in some aspect of our lives.
There have been many times over the past two years when I’ve stared ahead at the rocky path and wondered where exactly this road was leading. Being lost and without direction isn’t something I struggle with as much these days, but it rears its head occasionally. There are still deep valleys that I must walk through. But I’m beginning to see the fluidity of the circuitous path I’ve been wandering the last few years.
Part of that journey has been intersected by the journey of this woman who I’ve quickly come to know as a heart-friend. (Anna’s name has appeared on this blog numerous times, partly because her encouragement has given me the courage to own my brave.) A month ago, the two of us attended a retreat (Splendid By The Sea) in coastal North Carolina. At the end of the retreat, circumstances allowed us to drive several hours inland together before we parted ways. As we drove, we marveled at the fact that we’d road-tripped to another Splendid retreat together just six months before. And here we were again.
A couple of hours later, we arrived at her hotel—the same one where we’d met just nine months before in the middle of Snowpocalypse 2016. We squealed a bit and laughed incredulously as we parked the car, darted inside the lobby, and took a quick selfie in approximately the same place we’d become internet-friends-turned-real-life-friends.
Anna’s story is one that is coming full circle with the publication of The Polygamist’s Daughter.
As the back cover copy on the advance copy says, “my father had thirteen wives and more than fifty children. My childhood was filled with terror, desperation, and confusion. I barely knew who my family really was. The life we led made my stomach ache…but I never said a word.”
The censor bars covering her six-year-old mouth and eyes on the book cover are a chilling representation of the horrors she saw and the secrets she was forced to keep.
She has found the freedom and courage to tell her story.
Anna has overcome the aftermath of a multitude of tragedy. It will always be a part of her story. She will always be the polygamist’s daughter, biologically.
But it does not define her.
What defines her is her hope, her joy, and her genuine desire to love those around her fiercely. She lavishes these things on everyone she meets and leaves a trail of light wherever she goes.
I’m so blessed to be alongside her on this journey. It has been both an eye-opening and inspiring experience for me.
If you’d like to know more about Anna and her book, please visit her website, www.AnnaLeBaron.com.
The Polygamist’s Daughter officially releases March 21, 2017—check back here for my “official review” then!
The roar in her ears is muffled now, the sounds of the shore distant and hollow. The water forces her down, her back slamming against the gritty bottom. Eyes clenched shut, the world around her is dark. Her throat burns; her lungs scream for air.
Above her, the surface plays an elusive game of peekaboo as each new wave dangles the possibility of her mouth and nose breaking the barrier between water and sky.
The barrier between watery grave and sun-kissed life.
Panic wells in her chest. Her mind races.
This cannot be how it ends.
She will not succumb to these monstrous depths.
Forcing her eyes open, she gathers what little strength she has left.
She is determined.
The next wave slams her back into the ocean floor; she skids toward the shore on its current.
The monster doesn’t realize it’s helping her now.
A lull. She twists against the water, willing her feet to touch the bottom.
The next wave crashes and in the second it passes, the current sends her downward, toes brushing the sand.
She springs upward, breaking the surface, arms moving in familiar repetition, stroking the current beneath her.
She is exhausted, but she can see the shore.
With a few more strokes, she’s back in quieter waters.
She reaches with her toes…
…a few more inches.
Lungs gasping at the pure air, she looks out at the horizon. The waves build and break around her.
With aching arms, she lifts her hands. Right hand fingertips to left palm, firm, steady.
This is the sign for standing.
The roar of it fills her ears, drowning out her thoughts. Over and over and over.
Before her, a calmer path opens as the crest languidly rolls toward her, promising reprieve.
A break. Infrequent and welcome.
It glides passed her, unassuming.
Another swells in the distance.
It obscures the horizon line and draws strength from its belly.
The spray stings her eyes, springing from the surface with innocent exuberance. It crashes against her thighs, threatening to knock her down.
She fights to maintain shaky balance against the force of it.
Determined, it returns again and again and again.
The next builds, rising faster and stronger than the last.
Teetering backwards, her feet grasp for solid ground. Her muscles tense, braced for the impact. It’s too strong.
Gritty sand digs into her kneecaps.
The water rushes over her head. The roar is muffled, still filling her ears.
Her eyes burn and her lungs scream for the surface.
Arms and legs flail.
Her fingers find themselves instinctively.
Fingertips to palm, pulling downward, swirling.
This is the sign for drowning.
How exciting to welcome my first guest post on my blog–and it be my mom! Meet Sunshine Leister:
Sunshine Leister is a real estate agent, a coordinator for the Society of St. Andrew gleaning network, mom of four mostly-grown children and quite a few “adopted” children, Grandmama to two “adopted” granddaughters, an avid reader, and an accidental member of #the4500launches. She enjoys sharing with her friends on Facebook in a format she calls “Pondering Some Thoughts.”
If you need advice on herbs, essential oils, or want to join a local (Upstate SC) glean to feed the hungry in your community, she’s the one to call…if she can find her phone!
Two months ago, I threw her into #the4500launches Facebook group when she tried to steal away my Advanced Reader Copy of The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. Here’s what she has to say about the book.
Okay, confession time. I was not one of #the4500. So how did I come to be on this launch team (#the4500launches)? How did I come to write a review of a book that has ripped open emotion after emotion, a book that landed in my hands quite by accident?
Let’s be real. My daughter had been talking nonstop about another author, Anna LeBaron; a group of ‘rejects”called #the4500, and posting heart-rending, thought-provoking tidbits about The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner on Facebook. I saw them. And I read them. And I waited with anticipation for the book’s release. And then an Advanced Reader Copy of Ruth’s book came to my house for Ticcoa—taunting me to break federal law and open her mail!
I was strong…until Ticcoa opened the package and placed the book on the table. As soon as her back was turned, I found myself settling into a chair, book in hand. Soon, I was found out as Ticcoa got ready to go home: “Mom! That’s my book! How far have you read?!”
I was four chapters in.
Prying the book from my hands, she finally agreed to let me finish it after she’d read it—with the condition that I’d post a review. When I got it back (the next day—she read fast!), I cried, laughed, cheered, cursed, encouraged, smacked my head, and lived the life of Ruth Wariner. And yes, my heart leaned toward murder at times, and then catapulted to the abyss of conviction.
So many decisions, beliefs, deceptions mirrored instances in my own life, played out more subtly and unnoticed. A twist here, a darkness there, an enabling act that said “yes, it’s okay to treat me that way because I don’t want you to feel like a bad person,” a pressing down of anger because “we have to be nice girls,” or “a Christian doesn’t act like that.” Then came the realization that when it is a mother holding those beliefs, it is not only her life, emotions, and psyche that are changed and even depressed, but also that of her children.
As I read this book, layer after layer of denial was exposed and, hopefully, peeled away. I’ll be reading The Sound of Gravel again, because it is truly one that begs to be read more than once. Healing takes time and that costs very little.
For more information about Ruth and to read an excerpt from The Sound of Gravel, please visit Ruth’s website.
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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For the past two years, my reading accomplishments have been dismal. I didn’t have the energy or the desire to read (for the first time in my life!). Depression takes over everything when it has you in its clutches.
I started out this year strong in the fiction world—I needed an escape, more than anything. But then came #the4500 and the numerous titles recommended within the group. Here’s what I’ve been reading, listed by month (as best I can remember):
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain—a novel loosely based on the time Ernest Hemingway and his wife spent in Paris while he wrote what would eventually become The Sun Also Rises. A good read for what it is, but not great by any means. It’s definitely not a title I’d put into my repertoire of books I multiple times.
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan—a haunting story based on a group of survivors of the Titanic tragedy. It was a little slow-going at times, but based on actual events from the shipwreck, and I’m a sucker for historical fiction, so there’s that. Overall, a good read.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline— This one was a hard read; it’s a very haunting period piece about an older girl who desperately seeks a family to settle with. She faces a lot of tragic circumstances as she is passed from family to family. The setting shifts from mid 20th century to present day as the girl tells her story as a grown woman. I’d recommend this one.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling—The first memoir I’d read in quite awhile. Kaling is witty. And real. I enjoyed this one and want to read her recently released second book.
The Young Merlin Trilogy by Jane Yolen—I picked this YA trilogy up five years ago at a literary festival where I met Yolen. (She signed this book for me!) Yolen is a master at weaving an artfully intriguing story—and this one doesn’t disappoint. Great for young readers who like fantasy!
Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor—A raw, interesting look at O’Connor’s life from her perspective as she struggled with her faith. The literary nerd in me ate this one up! If you’re a fan of O’Connor’s work, this is an enlightening insight into her psyche.
The House Girl by Tara Conklin—I don’t remember a lot of details about this one, but I do know I liked it. Again, it’s a historical fiction novel, this time taking place in the south.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett—This was a re-read. I read it when it first came out several years ago and picked it up again this year. Loved it even more the second time around!
For the Love (chapter samples) by Jen Hatmaker—Here’s where I applied to be on the FTL launch team and got rejected and then stumbled in to the crazy-awesome group that is #the4500. Jen sent all us rogue, unofficial launch team members four sample chapters to tide us over until we could actually get our hands on the book. (I’ll get to the whole book later—hang on!)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple—One of my favorite fiction reads of the year! Funny, heartbreaking, mysterious, suspenseful—all rolled into these pages. Well-written and engaging—definitely recommended.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd—For all her overly feminist themes (I’m all for feminism, but SMK goes a little overboard sometimes—hello, The Mermaid Chair), Kidd delivers a riveting tale of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, two early feminists and abolitionists in the Charleston, SC area. I’ll probably read it again.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart—A delightful story of spies, a mysterious island-bound school, and a conspiracy to end the world geared toward older elementary readers. I have no idea where I picked this book up, but it was a nice, light read as I eased from the school year into summer.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee—A re-read in preparation for the release of Go Set A Watchman.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee—Honestly, I was very wary of this one. Like many, I was excited to read more of Lee’s words, but apprehensive of the way it came to be published. Did she really want it published? We’ll probably never know for sure. From all the media that preceded the release, I was worried that GSAW would tarnish my respect and view of Atticus as the beloved character he’s been for so many decades. In reality, I’m glad for this new perspective of Atticus—it made him more human and approachable, I think. If you’ve read TKAM, I definitely recommend GSAW. If you haven’t read TKAM, don’t read GSAW until you have!
For The Love (additional e-book chapters) by Jen Hatmaker—Jen’s publisher gifted those of us who pre-ordered FTL with the entire e-book. (I only read a few chapters, because I just need to have an actual book in my hands!)
In The Company of Others by Jan Karon—No year is complete without revisiting Mitford! I started with this one in preparation for her new book’s September release, because I didn’t have time to go all the way back to the first Mitford book. Karon is my favorite contemporary fiction writer, hands down.
For the Love (the actual hardcover, finally!) by Jen Hatmaker— After reading the teaser chapters, I was so happy to have this book in my hands. Jen (yeah, we’re on a first name basis now!) is hilarious, literally laugh-out-loud funny. She’ll have you giggling hysterically one moment and bawling your eyes out the next. In essay-format chapters, she covers everything from the problems with short-term missions trips, how our American Christianity callings shouldn’t differ from those of the single mom in Haiti, and living out our faith in our own communities to shouting out the loveliness of turning 40, disdaining the leggings-as-pants (LAP) trend, and tossing out witty Jimmy-Kimmel-esque thank you notes for everything under the sun. READ THIS BOOK—no regrets!
Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown—This is where we veer quickly to mostly nonfiction. Anna pushed this book “like crack” in #the4500. I avoided it for months, but finally decided it was time in late July. I didn’t actually start reading it until the end of August. And it took most of September to work my way through its pages. I have so many words about this book—many of the m can be found in earlier posts here on my blog. This book literally changed the course of my year and my mindset; it’s the reason I finally connected with Anna via phone and it was the catalyst for reclaiming my mental and spiritual health. Super powerful words in this book—I cannot recommend it enough!
Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon—the latest Mitford-based novel, with Dooley and Lace’s wedding as the main event. This one was tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that the focus of the storyline has shifted away from Father Tim and Cynthia and is nearing the end. Let’s just not think about that, shall we—these characters are among those that become real to you over the course of the series.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown—Tiny book, but meaty material, indeed. I’m still working my way through this one. For anyone new to Brown’s research and work, I’d recommend starting with this book as it provides a lot of helpful background for her other books.
Audacious by Beth Moore—I adore Beth Moore. I could listen to her speak for hours on end. And yet, this is the first book of hers that I’ve actually read in its entirety. I highlighted almost every word on almost every page. It was that good. Read it!
The Sound of Gravel (Advanced Reader Copy) by Ruth Wariner— What an absolute privilege it was to be part of the launch team that received ARCs of Ruth’s debut memoir to read and review. The story behind this one is INCREDIBLE. (And a long story [involving cousins from the same polygamist cult meeting on Twitter and bridging a family rift 40+ years in the making]—so if you really want to know, ask, and I’ll tell you all about it, well, what I know anyway!) My official review of this book will be up on the blog later this week, so you’ll find all my thoughts there!
Rising Strong by Brené Brown—A follow up to Daring Greatly, this book is weighty as well. I’ve slowly waded through the first half of it since Thanksgiving week, but am still working at it. There’s practical, worthy advice on how to apply the principles of Daring Greatly, the Gifts of Imperfection, and the Rising Strong principles introduced in the book. One of my favorites of the year.
Think Differently, Lead Differently by Bob Hamp—Listen, this book is literally causing me to think differently about my identity as a daughter of God, to approach my view of the intersection of the natural world vs. the spiritual world differently, and to tap into the Kingdom authority we have as believers in Christ. I’ve been listening to Bob Hamp’s Foundations of Freedom podcasts for a couple of months, and they have broken open the most walled-in places of my heart and soul. The growth I’ve experienced as a direct result of this book and the podcasts are absolutely invaluable. I’m still working through this one, too.
The Storied Life of A.J. Firky by Gabrielle Zevin—This was my attempt at an easy, light fiction selection during Christmas break. Ha. Rising Strong and TDLeadD have taken over. This one is slow-going and I haven’t really gotten into it, but I’ll soldier on ‘til I reach the end!
What’s your favorite book you read in 2015?
What are you most looking forward to reading in 2016?