LEAVING Isn’t the Hardest Thing is a memoir that hasn’t got a tidy chronology or a crystal-clear resolution, and its language is often coarse. Yet Lauren Hough’s vivid, darkly humorous essays paint a fresh and powerful picture of two intertwined struggles. The first is essentially the author’s coming-out story; the second is her ongoing effort to break the hold of a corrosive secret: the childhood she spent inside a “textbook abusive” religious cult.
Hough lives in Austin, Texas, and this is her first book. The eleven essays begin with her resignation from the U.S. Air Force at the age of 23 and go on to narrate later episodes that trigger flashbacks to her days in the cult. The writer has called the essays “reckoning[s]of survival, identity, and how to reclaim one’s past when carving out a future.” Born in Berlin in 1977, Hough is the third child of a Texan couple who, while still in their teens, had joined the notorious Children of God cult founded by Californian David Berg back in the Vietnam War era. “Forsake all and follow Jesus” was Berg’s call to his followers. Reorganized as The Family of Love (or The Family), the cult had more than 130 communes worldwide at the time of Hough’s birth. The author lived with the cult in Europe, South America, and Japan, and except for three years after her parents’ divorce, was in the cult until age fifteen.
Rosemary Booth is a writer and photographer living in Cambridge, Mass.