Real Life Ranch Wife

Book Review: “Never Burn Your Moving Boxes: A True Tale of a Real-Life Cowboy Wife”

A book review of Jolyn Young's heartfelt memoir as she reveals the nitty-gritty reality of cowboy living through humor and grace.

Jolyn Young’s heartfelt memoir reveals the nitty-gritty reality of cowboy living, proving that good-natured humor and grace are necessities in balancing the chaos of family and ranch life.

Western Horseman columnist Jolyn Young’s memoir was released last fall.

Western Horseman readers get a glimpse of Jolyn Young’s life through her monthly column “Real Life Ranch Wife.” Now, they can unravel the backstory behind the author’s byline in her debut memoir “Never Burn Your Moving Boxes: A True Tale of a Real-Life Cowboy Wife.”

Growing up in a rural Northern California subdivision, Jolyn dreamed of becoming a working cowboy. The closest she came as a young girl was riding backyard horses until after college when she moved to northern Nevada to work on a ranch. That’s where her memoir begins, but she’s always been a writer at heart.

“Writing has always been compulsive for me,” Jolyn says. “I’ve kept a journal since I was 6 or 7 years old, and I took a creative writing class in college. Sadly, I quit my journal in January of 2012 when I took a [reporting] job at Nevada Rancher Magazine [to supplement my cowboying income], but I had started my blog by that time.”

During her stint as a cowboy, a wild, free-spirited buckaroo named Jim Young rode into her life. Mesmerized by his charm, handiness with a horse and rope, and gypsy lifestyle, Jolyn fell in love and was blown into a whirlwind romance and motherhood while navigating the not-so-romantic realities of ranch life detailed in her memoir.

Jim has made his living horseback on ranches and now has a business catching feral livestock. Photography by Bud Force

She followed Jim from one ranch to another, living in filthy, rickety housing with her husband’s demons. Just as she’d get everything clean and settled in, it was time to uproot and move again. She often lived hours down a primitive road from the nearest neighbors and grocery store and spent weeks alone with an infant and later three children while Jim was on the wagon or partying with his buddies. She fended for herself and her children with few modern conveniences like cell phones and internet service. Along the way, she found solace and beauty in writing about her experiences and taking photos. Her blog morphed into a magazine column and, eventually, book chapters.

A book review of Jolyn Young's heartfelt memoir as she reveals the nitty-gritty reality of cowboy living through humor and grace.
Ranch housing had basic amenities and several surprises when the Youngs moved in. Photography by Bud Force

“[Writing] helped me process my feelings about many life events,” Jolyn says. “It also helped me realize my strengths because I did things that I didn’t think I could do because I wanted a better future for myself and my kids.”

Television dramas like “Yellowstone” and “Heartland” have spurred interest in the Western lifestyle, but few people could imagine what it was like to walk in Jolyn’s boots. Her brave, honest accounts are humbling and conjure a full spectrum of emotions. Yet, one of the author’s most redeeming qualities is that she always finds ways to interject humor and lightheartedness into the most heartbreaking circumstances. 

A book review of Jolyn Young's heartfelt memoir as she reveals the nitty-gritty reality of cowboy living through humor and grace.
Jolyn has raised three feral children on ranches, instilling independence, individuality and a love for horses, livestock and open spaces. Photography by Bud Force

The book ends with the last big outfit the Youngs lived at. By that point, Jolyn feels like a good friend that readers are rooting for and can’t wait to read what’s next. 

“I chose to end it there because that’s where I made peace with our nomadic lifestyle,” Jolyn says. “I lived in only two houses growing up, so it’s sometimes hard for me to move a lot with my kids. But I finally said to myself, ‘We move a lot. That’s what we do. We’re here, but I don’t know for how long, and then we’ll move again.’”

Author Jolyn finds the lighter side of ranch life in her writing. Photography by Grace Young

The couple now lives on the Mexican border in Southern Arizona with their three children. They started a business contracting to catch feral livestock that keeps Jim in the saddle. Jolyn juggles managing the business with raising their three children and writing about the comical sides of their lives. She’s writing chapters for a sequel to her memoir.

Jolyn’s 256-page, softback memoir is available for $19.95 at horseandriderbooks.com. For more information on the author, visit jolynyoung.com.

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