A high school Spanish teacher’s memoir about a peripatetic, often turbulent childhood and adolescence spent among fundamentalist Mormons.
Wariner, her “mother’s fourth child and her father’s thirty-ninth,” grew up in the small fundamentalist Mormon colony of LeBaron in northern Mexico. Chaos dominated her early life: one of her eldest siblings was prone to fits of extreme aggression, and when the author was 3 months old, her father was murdered. By the time she was 3, her mother, Kathy, had become the second wife of another colonist named Lane. But rather than bring stability to the family, the marriage only seemed to exacerbate the chaos. Lane and her mother argued and fought, sometimes violently. And while Kathy tried to sever the relationship by leaving LeBaron, she always found herself going back to her husband and bearing more children, whom she supported with government welfare checks. Wariner’s own relationship to her parents grew increasingly strained as she became older. In elementary school, Lane began to sexually abuse her. The author told Kathy about the abuse, but it continued into her teenage years. Desperate for “attention and adoration” from Lane, Kathy told her daughter she should “be more Christlike” and forgive her stepfather for his trespasses so as to keep the family together. After a freak accident that killed both Kathy and one of her younger siblings, Wariner discovered that Lane was also abusing her younger, developmentally delayed brother, Luke. With the help of another brother, who had gone to California to make a life for himself, 16-year-old Wariner took her remaining siblings to the United States, where she raised her three youngest sisters on her own. Engrossingly readable from start to finish, the book not only offers a riveting portrayal of life in a polygamist community. It also celebrates the powerful bond between siblings determined to not only survive their circumstances, but also thrive in spite of them.
An unsentimental yet wholly moving memoir.