Book Review: The Sound of Gravel

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the writer.

Had a tough week? Are you struggling to find things to be thankful for? If that’s the case, check out The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir. No matter where you are in life or how difficult your situation, The Sound of Gravel will remind you to be thankful.

In this memoir, Ruth Wariner shares her unique story of growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon community in Colonia LeBaron, Mexico. There, her father and self-proclaimed prophet Joel LeBaron started the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times in the ’50s. This church’s most valued principle is polygamy, which Wariner’s parents adamantly followed. However, Joel was killed by a follower of his brother Ervil, who started his own church after a disagreement with Joel – and this is where the story begins.

Not only is Wariner challenged with growing up in a minimalistic lifestyle without a functioning bathroom or electricity (for the most part), but she also has to deal with a sexually and physically abusive stepfather, Lane. Wariner’s mother Kathy became Lane’s second wife after Joel’s death. As a little girl, Wariner continuously fights to protect her siblings and herself from Lane. She also struggles to help her mother raise nine other children, even though she is still a child herself. Wariner eventually grows up and leaves LeBaron and the church for good – but first, she faces several tragedies, including the deaths of multiple family members and continuous sexual molestation from Lane.

Wariner’s story and background are so intriguing and unfathomable to the average American that I often forgot I was reading a memoir and not a fictional novel. For instance, when Wariner attends elementary school near Colonia LeBaron, she meets two of her half-sisters for the first time. She explains:

I knew I had half siblings all over the colony, but who they were had always been a mystery. Now, in school, it occurred to me that almost every child in LeBaron could be related to me.

Unique experiences like these are probably not relatable to most readers, yet it is fascinating knowing that it is a true story.

In addition, The Sound of Gravel is very authentic due to Wariner’s utter honesty and openness. She doesn’t hold back and describes difficult scenes in detail. Some parts of the book were hard to read, like the scene where she describes her brother Micah’s death. He died after Lane installed some faulty electrical wiring:

His muddy, wet body hung motionless from the barbed wire fence. His eyes and mouth were wide-open, his head and neck arched as if he’d thrown them back in laughter. 

Wariner deserves applause for sharing such a brutal past with uninhibited specificity. I can only imagine how challenging it was to write such a personal story.

Also, I quite enjoyed learning about Kathy, who is the most prominent and interesting character in Wariner’s memoir. I was often frustrated with her irresponsible parenting, like her ignorant loyalty to Lane. For example, Lane repeatedly breaks his promise to leave Wariner alone and sexually molests her multiple times. But Kathy forgives Lane every time, even telling her daughter to:

Forgive Lane…I want you to get over what he did. Put it in the past where it belongs. I want to keep the family together. 

During Kathy’s moments of blind faith in Lane, I wanted to reach into the book and shake her until she faced reality. However, Wariner tries her best to understand and forgive her mom:

Mom couldn’t teach me [happiness and love] because she didn’t know herself. She couldn’t show me how to be happy, only how to barely survive. 

Although Wariner is candid about Kathy’s shortcomings, she never attempts to frame her mother as a bad person or vent about her flaws. Rather, Wariner provides the reader with different perspectives on what Kathy’s thought process might have been like or how she felt in certain controversial situations she gets her family into. Ultimately, it is hard to hate Kathy because Wariner pushes her readers to sympathize with her.

The only thing that was confusing at times was the narration. In some parts of the story, Wariner speaks from the perspective of her younger self. For instance, she admits she is oblivious to the situation and doesn’t quite understand what is happening due to her young age. However, Wariner sometimes speaks from a more experienced, older perspective. When her stepsister pockets some cash meant for Lane so she can eventually run away from home, Wariner remarks:

What awful experiences would lead a thirteen-year-old girl to stuff dollar bills behind family photos and run away into a world of strangers?

This comment is clearly not from a 13-year-old; thus, the narrator’s age is confusing. Plus, it sounds like she’s speaking as an outsider, rather than as herself. Wariner’s failure to clearly define the narrator threw me off at times.

But overall, I liked Wariner’s successful attempt to explain such a complex story in one book. The Sound of Gravel has a wonderful message. It encourages readers to be thankful for the little things in life and to take advantage of our freedom to make our own choices – what belief system we want to follow, what lifestyle we want to lead, and more. The Sound of Gravel provides more than just an interesting story by giving its readers the opportunity to gain a unique perspective on religion, culture, and life’s struggles. I encourage everyone to pick up a copy.

Liked this? Check out our interview with Ruth Wariner and buy the book here!

Written by Diana Kim

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the writer.

Had a tough week? Are you struggling to find things to be thankful for? If that’s the case, check out The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir. No matter where you are in life or how difficult your situation, The Sound of Gravel will remind you to be thankful.

In this memoir, Ruth Wariner shares her unique story of growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon community in Colonia LeBaron, Mexico. There, her father and self-proclaimed prophet Joel LeBaron started the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times in the ’50s. This church’s most valued principle is polygamy, which Wariner’s parents adamantly followed. However, Joel was killed by a follower of his brother Ervil, who started his own church after a disagreement with Joel – and this is where the story begins.

Not only is Wariner challenged with growing up in a minimalistic lifestyle without a functioning bathroom or electricity (for the most part), but she also has to deal with a sexually and physically abusive stepfather, Lane. Wariner’s mother Kathy became Lane’s second wife after Joel’s death. As a little girl, Wariner continuously fights to protect her siblings and herself from Lane. She also struggles to help her mother raise nine other children, even though she is still a child herself. Wariner eventually grows up and leaves LeBaron and the church for good – but first, she faces several tragedies, including the deaths of multiple family members and continuous sexual molestation from Lane.

Wariner’s story and background are so intriguing and unfathomable to the average American that I often forgot I was reading a memoir and not a fictional novel. For instance, when Wariner attends elementary school near Colonia LeBaron, she meets two of her half-sisters for the first time. She explains:

I knew I had half siblings all over the colony, but who they were had always been a mystery. Now, in school, it occurred to me that almost every child in LeBaron could be related to me.

Unique experiences like these are probably not relatable to most readers, yet it is fascinating knowing that it is a true story.

In addition, The Sound of Gravel is very authentic due to Wariner’s utter honesty and openness. She doesn’t hold back and describes difficult scenes in detail. Some parts of the book were hard to read, like the scene where she describes her brother Micah’s death. He died after Lane installed some faulty electrical wiring:

His muddy, wet body hung motionless from the barbed wire fence. His eyes and mouth were wide-open, his head and neck arched as if he’d thrown them back in laughter. 

Wariner deserves applause for sharing such a brutal past with uninhibited specificity. I can only imagine how challenging it was to write such a personal story.

Also, I quite enjoyed learning about Kathy, who is the most prominent and interesting character in Wariner’s memoir. I was often frustrated with her irresponsible parenting, like her ignorant loyalty to Lane. For example, Lane repeatedly breaks his promise to leave Wariner alone and sexually molests her multiple times. But Kathy forgives Lane every time, even telling her daughter to:

Forgive Lane…I want you to get over what he did. Put it in the past where it belongs. I want to keep the family together. 

During Kathy’s moments of blind faith in Lane, I wanted to reach into the book and shake her until she faced reality. However, Wariner tries her best to understand and forgive her mom:

Mom couldn’t teach me [happiness and love] because she didn’t know herself. She couldn’t show me how to be happy, only how to barely survive. 

Although Wariner is candid about Kathy’s shortcomings, she never attempts to frame her mother as a bad person or vent about her flaws. Rather, Wariner provides the reader with different perspectives on what Kathy’s thought process might have been like or how she felt in certain controversial situations she gets her family into. Ultimately, it is hard to hate Kathy because Wariner pushes her readers to sympathize with her.

The only thing that was confusing at times was the narration. In some parts of the story, Wariner speaks from the perspective of her younger self. For instance, she admits she is oblivious to the situation and doesn’t quite understand what is happening due to her young age. However, Wariner sometimes speaks from a more experienced, older perspective. When her stepsister pockets some cash meant for Lane so she can eventually run away from home, Wariner remarks:

What awful experiences would lead a thirteen-year-old girl to stuff dollar bills behind family photos and run away into a world of strangers?

This comment is clearly not from a 13-year-old; thus, the narrator’s age is confusing. Plus, it sounds like she’s speaking as an outsider, rather than as herself. Wariner’s failure to clearly define the narrator threw me off at times.

But overall, I liked Wariner’s successful attempt to explain such a complex story in one book. The Sound of Gravel has a wonderful message. It encourages readers to be thankful for the little things in life and to take advantage of our freedom to make our own choices – what belief system we want to follow, what lifestyle we want to lead, and more. The Sound of Gravel provides more than just an interesting story by giving its readers the opportunity to gain a unique perspective on religion, culture, and life’s struggles. I encourage everyone to pick up a copy.

Liked this? Check out our interview with Ruth Wariner and buy the book here!

Written by Diana Kim

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