The Sound of Gravel is the true story of Ruth Wariner, a young girl growing up as a Mormon fundamentalist in the 80’s, traveling between Mexico and the United States with her ever expanding family. After Ruthie’s father is killed by his own brother when, her mother remarries, becoming the second wife to a practicing polygamist. Ruthie spends the majority of her youth living on a Mexican commune in a house without plumbing or electricity, sharing a bed with her mother and siblings, and living off government checks that her mother receives by falsely claiming US residency. She passes her time taking care of her siblings (several of whom are mentally disabled) and doing odd jobs with her half siblings such as selling pine nuts on the side of the road. When her step-father, Lane, begins making sexual advances toward her, Ruth begins to question the efficacy of her religion and whether her mother is doing the right thing by staying with her husband and the Mormon community.
I spent the first half of the book thinking it was a novel, not a biography, and found it much more compelling upon realizing the events are true and not fictionalized. It is not a story with a rising plot or a twist ending (though there is an event at the end that made my jaw drop from its un-predictableness); it is the sobering retelling of a life tarnished by neglect and abuse and misguided religious convictions. It's a downer. But like some of the best downer books out there—The Glass Castle by Janette Walls comes to mind—it has an important message that deserves hearing.
If powerful, albeit depressing, memoirs appeal to you, you may also enjoy A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard. This is an unforgettable story of a kidnapped eleven-year-old girl who is freed from her captors eighteen years after her initial abduction. Gaining national attention for the radicalness of her imprisonment, Dugard’s experiences will both haunt and inspire you well after you’ve finished her story. If you’re looking for another emotionally charged fictional book, try White Oleander by Janet Fitch. This is the story of a teenaged girl, Astrid, traveling between foster homes after her brilliant, passionate mother is imprisoned for murder. Astrid faces all the abuses—physical, mental, emotional—as she fights her way to adulthood.