on March 20, 2011
She was a toddler who lost her father, then an eight-year-old sexually abused by her stepfather, then a teenager pulled between a family's love and their corrosive secret. Even as a precocious little girl growing up in Twin Falls, Idaho, author Tracy Ross had guts. She still does, and the former staff editor at Skiing and Backpacker magazines proves it in a chronicle of her own hardcore life lessons delivered with a combination of biting honesty and understated drama.
Ross' love of the outdoors serves as the narrative's backbone: The wilderness exposed her as a child, helped her escape as a troubled teen, and now it frees her from the past. From Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains, to Alaska's Denali National Park, to Colorado's high country-where today she's settled with her own family-the rugged backdrops of Ross' life have helped to ground her, while her time spent backpacking, hiking glaciers, and skiing untracked wilderness is what makes her tick.
The Source of All Things rivals Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle in portraying a dysfunctional family with compassion and wit. Ross' writing is sensitive and sharp, full of raw emotion and painstakingly researched detail. She will win over readers with her story of survival, keen observations of the people and places surrounding her, and an ability to recognize and capture her conflicting emotions. "The desert killed people who didn't know how to find shade or water," she writes, describing her work for a youth program in Utah's Escalante Desert, before hitting hard with a painful gem of truth: "But it didn't hate them or prey upon them, the way dads sometimes preyed on their daughters."
Like Into Thin Air, the first-person account of the 1996 tragedy on Mount Everest that helped cement Jon Krakauer's writing career, Ross' reflective first book will likely set her on the path toward becoming the new voice of adventure journalism. She delivers a memoir that's both a vulnerable portrait of a childhood ripped apart and a liberating adventure story that you won't want to put down. Long after closing the book, you'll ponder her pain, her courage, and her strength.
This is one of the best memoirs I have read this year and I read a lot of memoirs. I was truly amazed that Tracy Ross could write such a moving story of her life and the courage to publish it. It is a true story of survival and how nature can help restore the human spirit. I was enthralled with how she captured her surroundings and made minor characters come to life. Her story is one that should inspire others to overcome their own heartache.
I don't know if I could survive the abuse Tracy Ross experience and in the end forgive her step father for that abuse. I think the real key was that she was brave enough to confront him in the end and comes to term with what happened. I think that helped her healing process immensely. Her retelling of how her mother responded to it seemed typical of other stories of abuse that I had heard. Her mother didn't want to hear about it nor did she believe what took place. I thought that in the long run her mother paid a high price with her own health.
Her descriptions of her life and how she coped with the betrayal were perfectly related and explained how their actions caused her despair. I had a few tears when she described how she felt from the abuse. There were also some smiles as she described her joy about finding the perfect love and sharing that with two lovely boys. I wish Tracy all good things since she deserves it. I received this book at no expense from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
on March 26, 2011
One of the best memoirs I have ever read.
Tracy recounts her experience with authenticity, grace and the courage that is often characteristic of people who survive and thrive after very difficult experiences.
Sexual abuse is extremely common and still extremely taboo. Few survivors are able to find the support and the courage to heal. Partly, it is because the system we live in holds a very dual view of what healing should be.
Tracy does all survivors a great favor by describing what her life was like, the coping mechanisms she used to survive and the complex ambivalent feelings that exist when the abuser is also a loved one.
I would encourage readers to enter Tracy's world rather than judge it quickly.
The media wants victims, not survivors and Tracy is showing that she could thrive in spite of the abuse she went through.
Life as a survivor is not non stop horror. More time is spent looking for ways to heal and cope. Nature was the way in and through for this author. It makes perfect sense that it would be featured in this book, just as much as the abuse.
A refreshing and hopeful perspective in holding all aspects of the truth.
Must read. Whether you are a survivor or not, you know someone who is and their experience is much more like Tracy Ross than the news story you read yesterday.
on March 20, 2011
I bought this book on a Friday night and finished it on Saturday morning. I didn't want to put it down to go to sleep Friday night. Having grown up in Twin Falls it was fun reading about all the old places I had been to and knew exactly what Tracy was writing about. While at the same time it was heartbreaking to learn that while I was safe at home in my bed each night a little girl just a few years older than I, was living a nightmare across town.
I commend Tracy for writing such a heartfelt memoir. I believe it shows her strength and perseverance. I love how she turned to the outdoors to help save herself and how she continues to do so today.
Tracy is a great writer, very descriptive. I loved reading about all the places she had been to, learning about all she had done and seen. It was just a great book.
Great Job Tracy!
on March 17, 2011
Tracy Ross has stepped outside the common boundary of comfort for people who read about the wonders and joys of nature. She has used this doorway, and her powerful voice, to explore the impact of sexual abuse on a child - herself and a growing number of other victims. I read the book in one long evening. Tracy, herself on the edge of understanding, pushes ever upward through a thorny and painful landscape of an innocent soul and the confused people who present
themselves as a loving family. No reader will be left unscarred. I heard Tracy say, at a reading, that the book holds redemption. I'm not so sure. No matter, I believe redemption is not necessary for a happy ending.
on March 22, 2011
For anyone who has experienced sexual abuse at the hands of a relative, a friend, or as in my situation, a co-worker when I was 19 years old, for me, this book was a great read.
It is not a dark journey through horrible descriptions of a pedophile. Instead it is a story about courage, love, betrayal and forgiveness. Tracy Ross is an incredibly strong and brave woman to go out on that limb and write a memoir about her family and the abuse she endured from the hands of her stepfather. I know how difficult it is to forgive someone for such horrific abuse.
Tracy Ross' book also depicts how Social Services failed this child and her family. I believe in some parts of the US today, this is still a sad and devastating fact of life.
Tracy's book has bits of humor relating to her '80's fashion style but what is most telling in this painful journey are the descriptions of her adventures with her family during outings in the woods as a child as well as her journeys around the world writing as an adult. The tenderness of her heart and her deep love of the wilderness is what helped her to escape the nightmares of her step fathers abuse. Nature and wildlife is what probably saved Tracy's life not only as a child but also as an adult. I believe it is what propels her to this place of peace as she continues to pave the path of forgiveness which is all part of the healing.
I loved this book and will read it again.
on April 8, 2011
The Source of All Things is an emotionally charged memoir by Tracy Ross, detailing her experiences with a sexually abusive stepfather, and her long trek through the raw wilderness to heal herself and reconcile with her abuser.
That's right. The story opens with Tracy joining her stepfather (always referred to as "Dad" because he is the man she grew up with after the tragic passing of her biological father) on a hike to the place she believes the abuse all began - Redfish Lake, Idaho. They have planned this trip for the two of them, but her reasoning is to confront him and ask those questions that I'm sure thousands of abused children would seek to ask their parents.
The story then moves to the beginning. Or, before the beginning. When Tracy was only seven months old, her real dad went backpacking and an aneurysm exploded in his brain. He died days later, leaving Tracy's mother emotionally devastated. Eventually, she moves on (although she seems permanently psychologically damaged by this experience) and marries Don. As a young girl, Tracy bonds quickly with her stepfather. They have a wonderful relationship filled with exploration of the wilderness (something Tracy holds on to well into adulthood and beyond). It is almost easy to forget that the reader already knows what evil is lurking in their future.
I find it difficult to write about the abuses Tracy suffered without wanting to explode with rage. It's the same feeling I had the first time I read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I want to crawl into the book and save these abused children. And then I am further hurt by the fact that these aren't just stories but these things really happen. I don't even feel that I can do Tracy's words justice. The way she talks about her abuse is mature and full of compassion for her abuser. She loves her father, and even states several times that she can't imagine what it was like for him to be around her when he has these desires that he must understand are inappropriate. It must have been so terrifying for her to love her father so much, but still be so aware of this monster that lived inside of him.
Even between instances of abuse, she still loves him and continues her close relationship. They still go hiking and camping, and when she needs help she goes to him. Her mother, seemingly incapable of doing the right thing for her daughter, even passes off parental responsibilities to Don - even after the abuse has come to light and the family learns what has been going on.
One night, after an encounter with Don, Tracy runs away. She slips on her sneakers and just runs to a friend's house. She knows that the friend's mother will help her. And she does. Child Protective Services is involved and Tracy is removed from her family's house. This is a distressful experience for Tracy, because she loves her family (even her dad) and being away from them is very difficult.
But this experience also puts her out of harm's way. Don is forced to attend therapy, and a restraining order is taken out. However difficult it might be for a father and daughter as close as them to be so separated, it is in the best interest in all involved - especially Tracy. And Don is knowing and accepting of this. No charges are ever brought again him, but perhaps that is simply a sign of the times. And the ignorance so many had on what abuses children were facing.
As Tracy moves through a few foster homes, ends up living with her mother again, and then eventually moves on to a boarding school, she turns to running and many other activities that keep her outdoors. The influence of Don taking her hiking and camping and hunting is obvious throughout Tracy's life. She chooses the wilderness as her safe place, the place she always returns to when her life feels out of order or chaotic. She works at a camp for "at risk" teens who have become too out of control for their parents. Instead of making her angry and vengeful, Tracy uses her past to offer empathy and understanding to other teens who have also suffered. Tracy works at rebuilding trails, which pares life down to it's most basic elements. This returning to nature becomes her therapy.
There is just so much that happens in Tracy's life between the beginning of the story and ending when she finally confronts her abuser at Redfish Lake, that I feel I can't even summarize it all here. She has so many adventures, so many things happen to her (good and bad) that help shape the woman she becomes. The entire book is inspiring and encouraging, but the moment of truth is that final confrontation. When she stands at a cliff, pulls out a tape recorder and asks her father those inevitable questions, it's a moment that just took my breath away. And Don's response is truthful, even if painfully so, and Tracy transcribes it as it happened so the reader experiences something incredible. To read Don's pain at his inappropriate feelings towards his stepdaughter is something that I, as a reader, have never experienced. I think it was very brave of Don to be so willing to submit to Tracy's questioning, and of Tracy to share this experience with the world.
Tracy's memoir is simply fantastic. She is proof, like the story she hears of the brutal murders in McCarthy, Alaska, that life beyond trauma can continue. Traumatic things happen in our lives, but if we wish to become survivors rather than victims, we must learn how to move forward.
Tracy is a brilliant writer, but I believe I am more impressed with the other things she has done in her life. She is an endlessly adventurous and inspiring woman. I enjoyed reading her memoirs, however heartbreaking it was at times, and I definitely recommend this book.
The Source of All Things was first published as a feature article in BACKPACKER magazine in December 2007. The full-length memoir was published by Free Press Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster in March 2011.
on May 4, 2011
Ross' book deftly showed the emotional impact of sexual abuse, how the victim struggles with ambivalence, denial, anger and shame. She wove it into her story without unnecessarily flagging those terms. For example, her ambivalence is shown by her confusing relationship with her parents. Her denial of the abuse is shown by her allowing her parents to babysit.
At first, I was distracted by the travelogue bits, but I began to understand that her adventures in the wilderness were also a big part of her life. Those moments also brought some release of tension after reading the times she was hurt or betrayed.
The source of all things--the backpacking at Redfish Lake was the source of her deepest pain (the abuse), but it ironically was also the source of her highest joys (exploring the wilderness).
on November 27, 2015
A powerful memoir written (and read in the audiobook format) by Tracy Ross, about the sexual abuse she experienced, starting at age 8, and continuing in her early adolescence. After going to boarding school, she finds her freedom in the outdoors, which also opens up her eventual career as an outdoors writer. After an abusive marriage, she remarries and has children, which begins her "salvation." But she is fixated on confronting her stepfather about the abuse, why it began, how long did it last, which she finally does in the final chapter.
I will not provide any spoilers, but I'm glad I read this book. One doesn't hear that often, and with such clarity, the effects of sexual abuse on a young person as they go into, and through, adulthood.
I waited more than a week after finishing this memoir to post this review, because I wanted to allow it to linger, to be digested. I think all men should read (or listen) to this book, because they need to know how devastating sexual abuse can be. And also how horrible it can be to be married to an angry and controlling husband. Tracy Ross does an excellent job of telling her story and letting you know how both of these can impact a woman's life. It's her story, but it's not unlike many others out there that are not being told.
on August 31, 2011
Interesting read. I was unfamiliar with the Author, so didn't know what to expect. She explains in vivid detail the horror of being sexually molested by her step-father, and how it affected her whole life. To be able to forgive him, showed character and class.