“I’m shaking right now, just talking to you about it,” said Anna LeBaron, recounting how it felt to walk away from her mother, her sisters, and everything she’d ever known at the age of 13. The daughter of an infamous polygamist cult leader, Ervil LeBaron, Anna had reason to fear. Her father had orchestrated the murders of other family members who had tried to leave the cult and, in 1980, was sentenced to life in prison for ordering the murder of a rival. “I look back and I don’t completely understand how I was able to walk away. But I did.”
Now 48-years-old, LeBaron recounts her anything-but-normal childhood, eventual escape, and lifelong journey of healing in her debut, The Polygamist’s Daughter (Tyndale, Mar.). “I have known for a long time that I wanted to tell my story,” she said. “I went through a lot of counseling in order to be able to tell it from a place of wholeness rather than pain.”
Indeed, for LeBaron, writing the book isn’t just a result of therapy, but is itself a part of the healing process—she says talking about traumatic events in ways and spaces that are safe is one of the ways people can heal.
The Polygamist’s Daughter doesn’t shy away from the difficult life LeBaron had as a young girl coming of age in a violent cult, but she chose to focus on her own personal experiences rather than detailing the group’s religious beliefs or her father’s murderous history. The book is filled with tales of near-starvation, parental abandonment, emotional abuse, and grueling unpaid labor. LeBaron moved constantly between Mexico, Denver, and Houston as the family fled law enforcement, sometimes packed into the back of a truck during the middle of the night. She describes the refried bean and mayo sandwiches served for lunch and the mush for breakfast, recalling how great life was when she was given Doritos and Oreos. Her father, however, never went without. “He got steak and potatoes while we weren’t allowed to partake,” she said.
Although she was the daughter of the cult leader, LeBaron did not receive any favorable treatment. “My father required that he receive the best of what was available,” she said. “Our needs were secondary to his, if they were considered at all. And once he went to prison, things went from bad to worse.”
Ervil LeBaron died in prison in 1981, leaving behind 13 wives and over 50 children, and making way for a new leader who, she says, hated LeBaron’s children. Feeling in more danger than ever, Anna LeBaron sought the help of an older half-sister who had drifted away from the cult.
While the decision to escape was a turning point, the danger didn’t end there, and overcoming the trauma of her childhood and young adulthood has taken a lifetime. “It took five years just to learn how to allow myself to express grief about what I’d been through,” she said. “I just kept showing up to therapy and hoping for that breakthrough. But that wasn’t the end of the healing process either.”
Ultimately, LeBaron found healing through counseling and teachings from Christianity, and she hopes her memoir will inspire courage in others—particularly anyone who is in a situation of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. “I hope it’s a reminder that you don’t have to have all the pieces to the puzzle in place before you can make a difference in your own life,” she said. “You just have to take that next step and do the next right thing. And even if your knees are knocking it doesn’t mean you don’t have courage.”
Sarah Atkinson, associate publisher at Tyndale Book Group, said the sense of hope is what initially drew her to LeBaron’s story. “What continues to inspire me is Anna’s remarkably positive attitude toward life,” Atkinson said. “[And] she speaks about what happened to her with honesty and authenticity.”
Marketing and publicity plans for The Polygamist’s Daughter include a Christian and secular media campaign including BBC News, Christianity Today, Good Housekeeping, People Magazine, and more. There is also a social media campaign that includes a Facebook Book Club, targeted ads, and sponsored blog posts with popular bloggers such as Margaret Feinberg.