Mini-Review: The Sound of Gravel

Title: The Sound of Gravel

Author: Ruth Wariner

Publisher: Flatiron

Published: January 2016

Genre(s): religion, memoir

Synopsis (via goodreads.com): 

A riveting, deeply-affecting true story of one girl's coming-of-age in a polygamist cult.

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...

Recounted from the innocent and hopeful perspective of a child, The Sound of Gravel is the remarkable true story of a girl fighting for peace and love. This is an intimate, gripping tale of triumph, courage, and resilience.  

I don't know how to write a review of this book to give it the justice it deserves. I do have a goal to read more memoirs, and this one definitely raises the bar!


As the synopsis describes, Ruth relates her childhood from the perspective of the age that she was at certain times in her history. One reason why her memoir is so successful is she provides such rich details while relating the exact dates/ ages almost as an afterthought. Her five year-old self wouldn't necessarily note her physical surroundings so acutely, but her adult self surrounds the memories of the five year-old with dynamic descriptions of her living situations and family members.

I think the most impressive aspect of Wariner's memoir is not that she survived an obviously abnormal childhood complete with many traumatic experiences, but that she resolved to survive it. With help from counselling, and support of family in the U.S., not only was she able to save her sisters from similar awfulness she had encountered, but she got her G.E.D., became a teacher, and was able to write a book that draws the reader in so completely that we relive her happiness and her horror with her every step of the way. That sounds so cliche, but I don't know how else to explain it.

When I first picked this book up for my book club I jokingly told myself, "well, I've seen [Broadway play] Book of Mormon, so I'll know what's going on..." And while you DO learn a lot from Book of Mormon, it's a whole other... kettle of fish (?) to hear about living the "ideal" Mormon life (as initially preached by original Mormon Joseph Smith) in a [neglectful] polygamous institution.

I didn't expect such an eloquent retelling from someone with her history of spotty education and traumas, but here it is! It's amazing, and heroic.

And a box of Kleenex.
Thanks for reading!

~ Spinning Jenny

An example of Wariner's poetic descriptions of the seemingly mundane-ness of her life in Mexico: 
[After her youngest sister spitting up her bottle.] I calmly cleaned us both up, fed her another bottle, and watched her fall asleep again, by which time the roosters were crowing outside and a cool blue glow began to wash over the room.
As the sun rose, it's harsh light piercing my eyes like tiny shards of glass... (p 296).
I wanted nothing more out of life than I did to keep my family together and make sure they were safe. The memory of those days [after leaving Mexico] 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 (p. 334).



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