In 2009, Tracy Ross’ "The Source of All Things" won the National Magazine Award for essay writing. It told the story of a father-daughter hike in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains—during which Ross, now an adult, confronted her stepfather about molesting her throughout her childhood. The book that evolved from that searing essay spans decades, delving deep into the abuse that began when Ross was eight, her eventual teenaged flight from her home, and the kaleidoscope of foster care, bad boyfriends, detours into self-destruction, and awkward family reunions that followed.
The American wilderness is the thread that connects the shattered pieces of Ross’ life: from the Sierra Nevada, where her biological father died on a backpacking trip when she was just seven months old, to Idaho’s Redfish Lake, where the abuse began, to the woods surrounding the northern Michigan art school where she made one of her escapes. And it’s the wilderness—in Utah, Alaska, Colorado, and back home in Idaho—that eventually saves Ross. But The Source of All Things is not a clear-cut tale of redemption and healing. It’s honest and messy and complicated (who else, after all, does Ross have to thank for her introduction to the outdoors but her abusive father figure?) and a disturbing, gripping read.