The Sound of Gravel|Ruth Wariner
The Sound of Gravel
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Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle meets Escape by Carolyn Jessup, THE SOUND OF GRAVEL is the remarkable true story of one girl's coming-of-age in a polygamist Mormon Doomsday cult.

The Sound of Gravel is Ruth Wariner's unforgettable and deeply moving story of growing up in a polygamist Mormon doomsday community. The thirty-ninth of her father's forty-one children, Ruth is raised on a farm in the hills of Mexico, where polygamy is practiced without fear of legal persecution. There, Ruth's family lives in a home without indoor plumbing or electricity and attends a church where preachers teach that God will punish the wicked by destroying the world.

In need of government assistance and supplemental income, Ruth and her siblings are carted back and forth between Mexico and the United States, where her mother collects welfare and her father works a variety of odd jobs. Ruth comes to love the time she spends in the States, realizing that perhaps the belief system into which she was born is not the one for her. As she enters her teen years, she becomes a victim of abuse in a community in which opposition toward men is tantamount to arguing with God. Finally, and only after devastating tragedy, Ruth finds an opportunity to escape.

Recounted from the innocent and hopeful perspective of a child, The Sound of Gravel is the remarkable true story of a girl forced to define a place for herself within a community of misguided believers. This is a gripping tale of triumph, courage, resilience, and love.


  • ISBN-13: 9781250077691
  • ISBN-10: 1250077699
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • Publish Date: January 2016

Looking back on a childhood in a fundamentalist colony

Like so many teenage girls, Ruth Wariner and her friends used to spend hours back in the 1980s dreaming and talking of future romances. But despite living in a fundamentalist “plural marriage” colony in Mexico that had broken away from the Mormon church, most of them did not hope for a polygamous future as a “sister wife.” They knew all too well what that meant.

Wariner was her father’s 39th child; her mother, 17 when she married, was the fifth wife of “the prophet.” When Wariner was a baby, her father was killed by assassins sent by his brother in a bloody feud over control of the colony. Her stepfather had four wives, none of whom he could afford to support, and Wariner’s upbringing was horrific. In The Sound of Gravel, Wariner describes her childhood and eventual escape in vivid, heartrending detail.

Her mother, Kathy, loving but in thrall to her ghastly second husband, Lane, had 10 children, three with disabilities. They lived in cramped, primitive conditions in their Mexican settlement, largely supported by the welfare fraud Kathy committed on frequent trips back to the U.S. Lane was abusive and incompetent, ultimately with tragic consequences. 

Wariner loved her siblings and friends, but suffered from mistreatment, poverty and a truncated education as her family hid in plain sight from the puzzled but apparently clueless authorities. All her frantic efforts to end her step-father’s abuse were stymied by her mother and their church. 

Wariner takes us inside this renegade community as only a survivor could. She writes with particular beauty about her brothers and sisters, innocent children living sad, deprived lives because of their parents’ folly. Her fears for them finally drove 15-year-old Wariner to flee to the U.S., where she built a better life for the family with the intelligence, fortitude and compassion that are evident throughout her impressive memoir.


This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.