I first saw Ruth Wariner's The Sound of Gravel while meeting with a friend at my favorite coffee shop. As a fellow introvert, the book was her choice of reading material while waiting for me to arrive. At first I did not think much of the book or even take any real notice of it. And then it was mentioned in an email from Goodreads, and after reading the synopsis, I knew this was a book people would soon be talking about, if they were not already, and I wanted to be in on the conversations.
Genre, Themes, History: The Sound of Gravel is a nonfiction book or memoir that tells the story of Wariner's life from a little girl of five years-old, to a teenager of 15, but with enough worries and life experience for two or even three life times. Wariner would be her mother's fourth child, but her father's thirty-ninth, and this is not even the father she would grow up to know. Until she would leave as a teenager, Ruth and her family live as part of a community of Mormons living in rural Mexico. And because this particular community continued to believe in and practice polygamy, Wariner's real father had many wives, and her step-father would as well. Despite the stress and jealousies that comes with being one of many wives, Wariner's mother continued to believe and espouse the value of polygamy, while Wariner herself would continue to wrestle with the idea, knowing that the expectation would be for her to grow up and become one of many wives as well, having child after child as part of God's will. But polygamy would not be the only thing Wariner would wrestle with. The entire family would be moved around between Mexico, California, and even Texas over the course of her entire childhood. And when the sexual abuse begins, and continues, at the hands of her stepfather, Wariner finds herself not only questioning the values of the community she has grown up in, but also her mother's loyalty to an awful man that barely supports her and her family - a loyalty that often makes it seem her mother chooses him over her own children.
My Verdict: I knew this one would be hard to read, and it was, but it was also worth it. Without being too detailed, but while also not shying away from the awful reality, Wariner honestly and bravely tells her story of how she grew up. At first glance, after realizing that Wariner grew up Mormon, it may be easy to expect that polygamy will take center stage in this story. And while polygamy is most certainly an issue, so is sexual abuse, poverty, gender roles, disability, education, mental illness, and what it means to be a family and want what is best for those closest to you. Something else I did not expect was for this book to be a page-turner. I do not think I have finished a nonfiction book this quickly in a long time, but I had to know how this chapter of Wariner's story ended, even though I got a general idea from both the 'about the author' section and the prologue. It is a story of a journey that was neither easy nor pretty, although few are. But Wariner talks about it with unflinching honesty and courage, and that is really all a reader can ask for.
Favorite Moment: When Wariner's oldest brother Matt stands his ground and tells his mother that he is leaving to work in San Diego. Despite her protests, she realizes she cannot keep him from going and helps him prepare for the trip.
Recommended Reading: Years ago I read Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres. While Scheeres did not grow up Mormon, she did grow up with fanatically religious parents who ended up doing much more harm than good, but continued as they believed themselves to be right.