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Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (4/5)

8 Sep

My book club was searching for books to read and I used my influence to add some from my TBR. Go me! This is a book I’ve heard good things about. I knew it wasn’t going to be a happy story, but I was hoping it would entertain me. It did and I enjoyed the book a lot more than I thought I would.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells

Summary from Goodreads:

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

Wow.  I would never have thought that while I was at my conference I would have carved out the time to read, but this book was worth it. The mental state of the Walls parents completely confounded me. Every decision they made seemed ridiculous and against any logic I would have used. Sometimes I think I would make a bad parent, but I think I’d be better than Jeannette’s parents. I was amazed at how happy Jeannette and her siblings were when they were young. They didn’t seem to realize those around them had more or that they had a poor standard of living. I’m glad they realized it as they got older, but I’m also glad that wasn’t the majority of the novel. It wasn’t as fantastical and interesting.

It’s hard to believe people like Rex and Rose Mary really exist. I can’t imagine the desire to live in an abandoned building when I own a home in Phoenix and land in Texas. That blew my mind. I’m also amazed at how little they seemed to care about or notice their children. It was depressing, to be blunt. I found an interesting Washington Post article about homelessness and the Walls defy most of the stereotypes addressed in the article. They’re a breed all their own.

Besides Jeannette, Lori was my favorite character. It was hard not to love the narrator, but I related to Lori. She was a bookworm who loved art. While she did visual arts and I write, I still related to someone who had aspirations to share her creations. I saw her as a strong character for leaving the family first and I admired they way she helped take care of the younger children. She’s the kind of big sister I would want.

I think having so little in common with the Walls family is part of what made this book so appealing. It’s a ‘so crazy it must be true’ story, that the reader thinks could never happen in real life. Finding out that Walls is a successful journalist (not a spoiler, read the back cover) and that this is how she grew up is astounding. I loved it.

Jeannette Walls Image via The Globe and Mail

Jeannette Walls
Image via The Globe and Mail

The stories of the children living in the desert fascinated me most. It was so incredible how little they had yet how happy they were. The small things, like being given a star for Christmas, made them happy when all they had was family. They were so proud of their father for how smart he was when all he really did was drink. They never complained about being hungry even if they had nothing to eat for lunch because their mom had to buy school supplies. It was fascinating and really highlighted the innocence of childhood.

Hearing about the family dissolving after the children grew up was hard. Especially Maureen. That broke my heart. You always want the small kid to grow up into something great, but seeing her fall apart was hard. I still cheered for her until the end.

We can’t choose our families. I’m reminded of this often as I’m sure we all are. Jeannette would have chosen another family in a heartbeat as a teenager, but as an adult seems to realize she wouldn’t be who she is without them. We are shaped by our families and the world we’re brought up in and as much as we wish it were different, that life would be easier if our parents weren’t controlling or alcoholics, we would be so different that it’s unimaginable.

Writer’s Takeaway: Part of what made this book so easy to read was the tone Walls used. When she talks about her childhood, her style is simple, happy. As she grows up, she uses a critical eye to analyze what is going on and how she reacted to it at the time. It’s a great way to show that a constant (Rex) can be viewed in many ways over time by a single character or by multiple characters. The Walls children all changed their perspectives.

The book was really enjoyable and a quick read. Four out of Five stars.

PS- looks like Jennifer Lawrence is working to produce a movie adaptation!

Until next time, write on.

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