If you know anything about me, you probably know about my weird obsession with cults. I know it’s ridiculous and macabre, but I find cults to be extremely fascinating. It could have something to do with the fact that I grew up in close proximity with a cult. (And by close proximity, I mean that I had many friends involved in a cult and I visited often. Maybe I’ll talk more about that later.)
But for whatever reason, I’ve always been fascinated by them. You may remember I reviewed The Burn Zone some time ago. Written by Renee Linnell, a cult survivor, this book captivated me and is, to date, one of my favorite books I’ve reviewed. It was fascinating, and Renee’s story was one of strength and redemption and something in that was empowering to me, and I haven’t even lived through anything like that.
A few weeks ago, I was on one of my regular I-can’t-sleep scrolls through TikTok, when the algorithm matched me with Anna LeBaron (@annaklebaron on TikTok if you’re wondering). Anna was doing one of those trends when you answer questions about your life. Your name, your age, etc… and when it got to her siblings, she answered “50 siblings (Not a typo)”.
Immediately I was intrigued. And apparently I wasn’t the only one. The comments were loaded with people questioning her having 50 siblings. They all wanted to know more (and so did I!). So Anna graciously answered the questions as they came in. And through the course of the next hour, I scrolled and learned and scrolled and learned about her life growing up as the daughter of the leader of a polygamist cult. In one of those Q&A videos, she mentioned that she’d written a memoir, The Polygamist’s Daughter.
So I immediately bought it. (And invited her to appear on the podcast I co-host, Lifetime Sentence, to talk about it. That episode dropped today, and we are so excited to share it with the world.)
And just like The Burn Zone and the other stories I’ve read of people who escaped their cult upbringings, Anna’s story drew me in. Her memoir encompasses a lot of her lifetime, and throughout it the narration is authentic and so uniquely her. As a child, the reader experiences the world through the eyes of seven-year-old Anna. She understands the world as a seven year old. She is precocious–a clear result of growing up in a truly traumatic lifestyle–but the narration, the presentation of people in her life, the comprehension of the world around her? Those things are all in the limited perspective of a child. There is no trying to figure out people’s motives, intentions, or subtext. It’s very face value and matter-of-fact. As the book progresses, Anna matures and she begins to understand the world around her. As a result, the narration matures and offers the reader more information as well. I know that was more than just a mechanic of writing–it was the way Anna truly experienced life. But it was wonderfully done.
This is a heavy read, I’m not going to lie. Anna’s father orchestrated murders, and the cult in which she was raised was one of the worst I’ve ever read about. But there are shining moments of beauty throughout, as well. Her childhood memories of living on the beach with her sister, sleeping in a hammock and enjoying that time in her life, for instance. This is a scene that stuck with me throughout the rest of the book. It was a respite from the heavy, the dark, the horrid things that Anna experienced.
The older I get, the more I love memoirs. I think it has to do with the fundamental reason I’ve always wanted to be a writer. People are important and so are their stories. I want to be the person who captures the stories of life. Maybe I capture them in fiction, maybe I capture them in blog posts. But the stories of life are everywhere if we listen closely enough. Anna’s is there, told freely and without reservation, for you to read. And there is something so wonderfully amazing about that idea.
If you’re a fan of memoirs, if you find cults fascinating, or if you are impressed by amazing, badass women (which Anna is in the most subtle and gracious of ways) then I wholeheartedly recommend The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron.
Plucky’s rating? 5/5 stars
The Plucky Reader